Our Exhibitors: An Appreciation

May 16th, 2014 | By | Category: Conferences, Regional
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Our Exhibitors: An Appreciation
Long Overdue That We Want to Continue

Leslie Freeland

Leslie Freeland


—At most CATESOL events you will find an exhibitor area, containing displays from various publishers. Along with the presentations, these exhibitors are an integral part of the conference experience.

Exhibitors increase the value of a conference and enhance the conference experience by helping attendees learn about the newest teaching material, giving attendees advice on how to effectively use this material, and listening to any concerns or challenges the attendees might be having. The publishers also help attendees make educated decisions on what might be the best teaching material for their particular teaching needs. Oftentimes, just searching online and visiting the publishers’ websites is not enough. Flipping through an actual textbook or using teaching software with an expert right there to help is invaluable. In addition, the publishers often donate many of the prizes given away during a conference opportunity drawing. Keeping all of this in mind, we should realize that it is important not to take exhibitors for granted or to treat them as an afterthought. We have many ways to show appreciation for the exhibitors.

After the 2014 Northern Regional Conference, several of the exhibitors shared what makes their participation in our CATESOL conferences successful. All of them said the same things:

people bending over publishers' exhibits display

What publishers love to see!

  • First, they highly value conference organization.
  • Second, they appreciate help and support during the conference.
  • Third, they need attendees to actually go into the exhibitor area so that they can best assist them with their choices in materials.

To be better supporters of our publishers and exhibitors, both as conference organizers and attendees, we need to look more closely at their needs. Although we are experienced in giving and attending presentations and thus intuitively know the planning behind them, we are less attuned to our publishers’ and exhibitors’ needs.

Because they highly value conference organization, having organized, exhibitor-area procedures in place helps the publishers’ setup and take-down activities flow smoothly. Conference organizers can accomplish this by taking the time to visit the conference site in advance and having the exhibitors’ reserved spaces preplanned in the room configuration, taking into account which exhibitors need, for example, electrical outlets or Internet access. Sharing a diagram of this preconfigured setup with them can help the exhibitors with their own planning.

Also, organizers should consider placing the exhibitor area near the center of the venue or near heavily traveled walkways, and they should make sure the exhibitor area is clearly marked on the map in the program. Attendees are much more likely to take advantage of and benefit from the materials and knowledge available if they can easily find the exhibitor space.

At the beginning of the day, conference organizers can give help and show support to the exhibitors by having volunteers ready in the morning to help guide exhibitors to the right location. If possible, they can also make sure an AV/tech volunteer or employee is available to help exhibitors get online as they set up. During the conference, one way to show appreciation for the exhibitors is by having assigned volunteers periodically ask if they need anything, such as technical support or a short break from their booths. They also welcome offers to bring them coffee or the continental breakfast and, of course, lunch if it is part of the day’s events.

All of the above are good manners, but the most important thing we can do is to place food in the exhibitor area, such as a continental breakfast and our coffee/tea service. At the Northern Regional, we had the luxury of being able to serve a beautiful continental breakfast and all-day coffee/tea in our exhibitors’ area, where there were also tables and chairs for attendees to congregate, network, and relax. This setup encouraged attendees to stop by between sessions and created a built-in gathering place for both the attendees and the exhibitors.

However, attendees will not be able to take advantage of the publishers’ material and knowledge without adequate time. All of the publishers mentioned that in order to truly have a successful conference experience, they need attendees to have time to visit them. One solution is setting aside an hour during lunch with no presentations. At the most recent conference, the lunch hour and the last hour of the day were open for attendees to visit the exhibits.

In addition, an exciting part of many conferences is a drawing at which attendees win prizes. Many times the publishers donate items for the drawing, so why not involve them directly in the drawing activity?!

At an organizational meeting, Keira Kirby, a keynote speaker at the Northern Regional, shared a game that brought attendees and publishers together in a fun and interactive way: a “passport” to “travel” around the exhibitors’ room.

At registration, each attendee received a small card with all of the publishers’ names on it. To participate in the drawing at the end of the conference, attendees needed to go on a “trip” through the exhibitors’ room and get their passport “stamped” (or, in this case, initialed) by each publisher. After they had completed their journey, they dropped their passport into the drawing box.

This is the actual “passport” card used at the Northern Regional Conference:

card for northern regional drawing

It is a good idea to let the publishers know about the game in advance to make sure they want to be included. At the Northern Regional, the publishers enjoyed this activity, and one publisher even had a stamp with a pair of hot pink lips to mark the card!

During the Northern Regional, we organizers went around and explained the drawing to the publishers and asked if they would like to participate by making a donation. All wanted to join in. We spread out the donations on a table in the center of the room, and as each winner was drawn, the winner had a selection of different teaching materials to choose from. A few attendees were unable to collect a prize when their card was drawn because they had forgotten to put their names on it!

This was a fun and well-received activity. Thank you, Keira!

After the conference, it is recommended that you check in with the exhibitors to see how their day went. You might want to give them a survey, or, if possible, speak with them directly. In this way, we can keep optimizing the publishers’ experience at our conferences. Exhibitors pay to rent tables, and we want to make their investment worthwhile.

Let’s all keep in mind, as conference organizers and attendees, that maintaining a positive and supportive relationship with the publishers creates a partnership that can increase conference success.

Leslie Freeland is coordinator of the Capital Area Chapter and Northern Regional Conference and program co-chair.


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