Over the years, I have come to realize that new conference attendees may perceive the Exhibit Hall as a vast, unknown territory. People often don’t know what to make of it. Is it the conference watering hole—a place to fill up on water, coffee and tea? A farmers’ market made up of T&I merchants selling their ingenious products and wares? Endless rows of booths from T&I companies and agencies looking for new talent? Oh—wait—and there is an area where you can meet and sit down with experts from CAT tool companies who can answer your technical questions and help you with that CAT-tool conundrum you’ve been suffering over … It’s true, I’m not making this up.
Let’s call it the Diagon Alley of the T&I industry, only missing a few elves walking around (hm… no, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen those too). For the sake of readers who may not be Harry Potter enthusiasts, the Exhibit Hall is the place to be to get the scoop on the latest technologies available to T&I professionals, trends, books, products, and, of course, to meet agency representatives, and even schools offering T&I courses.
But how to peruse the Exhibit Hall? Switching from being a potential customer at a CAT-tool booth, to being informally interviewed by an agency representative in the next booth can be a bit nerve-racking. Having a plan is the key.
In my early years as a conference attendee, I developed a “system” to go through the Exhibit Hall in a calm, organized manner that allows me to make the most of my time there.
The night I arrive, I take the finalized conference program (the actual paper copy) and study the floor plan to see which companies are in the Exhibit Hall. Then, I make note of the booths I’m interested in visiting by circling them and organizing them into two categories: products I’m interested in buying (CAT tools, books, equipment), and people I want to meet (whether it is a company I already work for but have never met any representative for in person, an agency I’m interested in contacting, or a T&I program/certificate I’m considering taking).
Based on the number of circles I have in each category, I choose two timeslots on two different days to skip a session (gasp!) and visit the Exhibit Hall. This might seem sacrilegious at first, but you will soon realize that during coffee breaks and lunch, the Exhibit Hall resembles a trading post, and it will be quite a feat to get any quality time at the booths. By visiting the Exhibit Hall when most conference attendees are in sessions, you will maximize your chances to have quiet, productive conversations with the folks you’re interested in meeting. Get a glimpse of what the Exhibit Hall will look like by checking out this year’s exhibitors.
I allocate between one hour and 45 minutes on two different days to visit the Exhibit Hall, and voilà—I’m done! A word of caution: some booths close early on Saturday, as it is the final day of the conference, so be sure to find your timeslot early if you are a Saturday-only attendee or are otherwise planning to visit the Exhibit Hall on Saturday.
Another tip for the Exhibit Hall is to keep your business cards handy, but not so handy that it looks like you’re at a Pokémon-card exchange. And you will be wise not to hand out your résumé as though it were a “lost dog” poster. These days, many companies are not interested in hauling reams of résumés back to the office after the conference. Instead, they may give you a link to a page where you can register and upload your résumé or ask for your business card and exchange contact information, while yet others may, indeed, ask for a résumé. But don’t assume everybody wants a paper copy of your résumé.
One of my favorite areas in the Exhibit Hall is the Tool Support Stations. This relatively new feature of the Exhibit Hall—introduced only a few years ago—is a cool way to meet with tech-support people from different CAT tools to get questions answered and issues resolved. This is a hands-on meeting, so be sure to bring your laptop to show them whatever it is that is troubling you.
The Exhibit Hall is a very dynamic area, and as such, it’s always changing. Every year I look forward to seeing what’s new, meeting new people, and greeting long-time friends.