This week was my first foray into attending an event as a delegate as opposed to an exhibitor. Having exhibited at In4matics at the ICC in Birmingham last year, I spent much of the two days milling around on a stand staring into space instead of engaging with people. This was not through lack of effort on my part – there simply weren’t enough delegates to talk to.

I fear this is a typical experience for many exhibitors who invest considerable sums of money in stand space, literature, staff time and entertaining, but who come away from such an event wondering what they achieved and whether it was all worth it?

As I sit here nursing my sore feet, sore throat and aching limbs, I am also contemplating my new experience. What a difference!

Not only have I probably walked over five miles, spoken to hundreds of people, forged new relationships, learnt more about the health IT sector, bonded with the rest of my team, eaten, drunk and been merry (just a bit though… honest!) – I have actually come back feeling a sense of satisfaction. It was worth it.

An event of this magnitude requires months of planning and PR, however the benefits are often difficult to justify for the organisers, exhibitors and delegates alike. Without it though, there would be few opportunities to share experiences, network and learn more about the industry we are all so passionate about.

Whilst walking around the exhibition hall over the past few days, the team at Highland Marketing counted several of our own clients in attendance. How often do you get the opportunity to meet face-to-face with that many key stakeholders as well as potential clients at the same time in the same place? It’s a rare opportunity and one we wouldn’t miss.

The lesson we have learnt not just from HC2013 but the many other events that we attend each year is simple – you get out of it what you put in. If you have a robust PR and marketing strategy in place to support your company-wide objectives, you’ll reap the benefits. You need to speculate to accumulate.

We are already planning our attendance at the next event, we’re  taking on board our experience from the past week and using it to ensure we get the most out of it next time. There is always something to learn or someone to speak to, no matter how long you’ve been doing it. We almost had to devise an exit strategy on Wednesday, as the event came to a close, it was impossible to walk out unnoticed – with exhibitors and delegates alike catching our attention.

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I appreciate that time out of the office is often frowned upon and attending an event is sometimes perceived as a ‘jolly’ rather than an educational or relationship building experience but that really isn’t fair. For the number of times we attend events each year, more relationships are created or strengthened, more deals are brokered and more knowledge gained than the equivalent time spent behind your desk at a computer.

Of course there needs to be a balance – your work won’t complete itself and no amount of technology will come up with a solution that addresses this – sadly. But what is important is that events such as HC2013 are designed to provide the opportunity to encourage collaboration, enhance our understanding of the industry and facilitate the development of the next generation of healthcare IT.

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