Workshops, meetings, networking with familiar and new colleagues, and a variety of complimentary food and treats are all great ways that a conference can be memorable and meaningful to career services professionals. However, there is another way to make conference attendance a value-added event. It is by making a real connection with the exhibitors.
Career services professionals like you, including the editors of Career Convergence and some past presidents of the California Career Development Association (CCDA), responded to NCDA's request to share how and why to connect with exhibitors at conferences, such as the annual Career Development Conference. As one respondent stated, “Every constituency group within NCDA can benefit from visiting with exhibitors at the conference.” Below are the top four reasons to engage with exhibitors that were given by those who responded and excerpts from their statements.
Reasons to Engage with Exhibitors:
Discovering New Products and Services: “Chatting with the exhibitors at the conference is a great opportunity to be introduced to the newest and most up-to-date products and services in the Career Development Field.” “I viewed it as a wonderful shopping trip. A mall of sorts. With lots of free goodies, including cotton bags to haul it away.” The product may be something that assists the counselor in some way or teaches a new concept. It is extremely important to stay connected with the latest information in the field, and to see what new products and ideas are presented.” “Where else will you get the opportunity to see the newly updated versions of these tools except at the exhibits? It is also here that you get to ask questions about these assessment tools...”
Networking: “It's about relationship building...” “...gives me ideas on potential programs to write up for grants.” “Counselor Educators may find a potential guest speaker for their class.” “Meet other coaches/counselors at the booth who use the product or service and ask them questions.” “An excellent opportunity to develop a network focused on more deeply understanding trends, demographics, and latest resources. Exhibitors are usually always willing to share their knowledge, offer information other than just the presentation content.” “...a conference is the place where you can connect with industry leaders from around the world. The conference could even be the place where you meet your next boss.”
Professional Development: “...there’s something for everyone to learn and experience in the Exhibit Hall.” “...spending just a few minutes learning about the products and services each exhibitor offers just extends the realm of knowledge you gain at the NCDA Conference.” “Post-Secondary career counselors may discover a new program idea that will attract their clients to come and make an appointment with career services.” “Truly taking advantage of every resource available is important to the success of my students. I listen to the exhibitors and try to engage as much as possible...” “Increase(s) your relevancy to your organization and your client/student base by gaining new tools, knowledge and skills and broadening your career development connections.” “Awareness is key!”
Cost-Effectiveness: “(you) can win prizes or get special discounts that save you money. (I won a coach training package worth $1500 and an Alexa).” “sometimes, . . . you get some free copies that could be used in the classroom.” “...learning to understand the resources out there that could eventually lead to free resources, or the product they are promoting.” “Government and non-profit career counselors can find a new way to be cost effective within their organization.”
Don't Be Intimidated!
By connecting on a personal level with exhibitors, you are less likely to “feel trapped” into hearing a sales pitch from them. Likewise, attending demonstrations can help you learn about the product or service in an anonymous way. It also makes it less intimidating to ask questions.
Newcomers to the profession or conference might feel apprehensive about their lack of knowledge. Be not afraid! Respondents offered the following: “When one is starting out, it can be a bit daunting trying to find your footing. EVERYONE appears so smooth, confident, and knowledgeable...” “K – 12 career counselors may find a new partner who can assist them in advocating and supporting the dreams of their young clients.” “Learning from the leaders of our profession strengthens us personally and can make us more vocal and proactive to enhance the goals of career development.”
Remembering that communication is always a two-way street, it is good to know that exhibitors really want to hear from their visitors. Sharing the concerns of your work setting helps the exhibitors respond to needs of their audience. “I like that I can talk about what I do and then listen to what they know about my population and the services I can improve upon.”
So, instead of rushing through the Exhibit Hall to pick up material (and treats) from vendors whose products and services catch your eye, think about these reasons for making a connection with the representatives standing behind the table. You, your clients and your organization could be much richer for it!
Willa Smith, M.S.C. is a retired Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, NCC and NCCC. Currently, she is a Field Editor for Career Convergence and author of journal articles (National Career Development Association) and chapter author (Unfocused Kids: Helping Students to Focus on Their Education and Career Plans). Currently, she sits on the Sutter Yuba Homeless Consortium and on the Yuba Sutter Healthcare Council Board of Directors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org