#nacac17: 10 Ways to Make the Most out of the Exhibit Hall

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If Boston is your very first NACAC conference, that’s wicked good news! There is so much to love about this city and this conference. But with that, I’m sure that there are lots of questions and planning and “what do I do” floating around your mind.

I can assure you that you will find that the NACAC conference is one of the best of the year in our industry! Sessions, coordination, content, and venues all play a part in that. But, above all else, it’s the people.

This year will be my (gulp) 17th NACAC conference. And one thing I’ve gotten to know well is the exhibit hall.

We all know the stereotype of the scary people standing at those booths:

But, the truth is, most of the folks in the exhibit hall, me included, share the same passion about students as you do! They want to talk about how they can help you, help students, and help you help students. They don’t want to just tell you what they do, but learn what you need them to do.

Also, they are the experts in their specific area. Chatting with them doesn’t mean you’re committing to working with them by any means, and it doesn’t cost anything to pick their brains. Keep in mind, many have sat in your seat before, so they bring a powerful perspective from both sides of the desk. Even from a short meeting, you will gain perspective about what other schools are doing, how their services are impacting the industry, what trends they are seeing, and maybe, just maybe, they will inspire new ideas for you to bring back to the office and implement.

Long story short, don’t discount the time in the exhibit hall. Valuable learning can happen in the conversations you have in those booths and aisles. Still don’t believe me? Consider these top 10 must do’s in the exhibit hall. Trust me, it will make your overall experience better.

1: Plan ahead! Check out the list of exhibitors before you go. It gets busy in there, so take a moment to scope out your top locations and be sure to hit them up.

2: Learn. Use the exhibitors as a resource and pick their brains on what they know. Learn from their expertise, not their sales pitch. You’ll be hard pressed to find folks there that aren’t excited about what they are doing and how it impacts admissions. Learn about what that is and how you can leverage that knowledge, either for tomorrow or your future.

3: Be open-minded. Don’t just stop at the booths of familiar brands and faces. Some of the folks you don’t know might have unique perspectives that could intrigue (or inspire) you. And for those brands you’ve seen year over year, don’t assume you know all about them. They’ve evolved just as education has, stop by and find out what’s new.

4: SWAG. Who doesn’t like free stuff? From stuffed animals to pens to free coffee (and even beer), I’ve seen it all in there. Indulge, you deserve it! Tip: save a bit of space in your suitcase to easily bring home your goodies.

5: Make a new connection. My favorite thing to do at the conference is meet new people. If you need a safe friendly face, come hang out with me and relax on our couches!

6: Go to the events in the hall. If you’re looking to connect with people and feel the real pulse of this conference, the Welcome Reception is probably the single most worthwhile event of the week. Head in, get free food, grab a drink, meet up with friends, and check out some of the booths. Rinse and repeat for snack breaks (did someone say free food again!?).

7: Take a break. Throughout the hall there are many places to relax. Visit the NACAC booth (their carpet is always the most cushioned, your feet will thank you), drop in the refreshment area, grab a spot on a sofa. Whatever it is, the exhibit hall is a great place to rest.

8: Bring business cards. Whether it’s to drop in for an amazing prize or to stay connected with a newfound resource, you will need business cards!

9: See #2. It’s so important it’s worth two spots!

10: Have fun. It’s almost impossible not to. The exhibit hall is ripe for some of the most entertaining, interesting, thought provoking conversations you’ll have all week. Enjoy it and soak in all the goodness.

I hope your first NACAC conference is a wonderful, inspiring, and memorable event! Feel free to connect with me on Twitter (@meghdale) with any questions you have, from the exhibit hall to the sessions to amazing city, I’d love to help.

I’ll see you soon!

Meghan Dalesandro is president at Carnegie Communications, a higher education marketing and recruitment company based in Massachusetts.  Find her in the exhibit hall at booth 711.

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