Written by Dotty Winters


Surviving Expo Hell

Your job as a high-powered business executive has its perks. Conferences aren’t one of them. Luckily, expo-veteran Dotty Winters has some excellent tips to get you through.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

For many of us who work in the public sector, a defined sector or run our own business, occasional attendance at a conference or expo is a necessary evil.

Whether you’re there to network, learn, sell or spend eight hours in a windowless hangar where everyone you meet is unnaturally cheerful, it can drive even the most confident of us to hide in the toilets.

I’ve been attending conferences for most of my professional career, as a speaker, business owner or as a representative of the boards I serve on, and while I absolutely understand the value they can offer, I’ve had to adopt a few conference habits to get through. Here are my top tips to survive and thrive in Expo Hell.

Wear comfy footwear

I know this is old news, but as you are likely to be walking a long way and may need to make a hasty escape from an over-enthusiastic sales rep, you need to think about what you wear. For lots of people this means flats not heels. But that’s for amateurs. Wear your slippers.

Trust me: this is the future. If you feel self-conscious about this bold move, simply pick up two promotional flyers and staple them to the toes of your fluffy slippers; you’ll look like you’ve levelled-up at conference blagging. Once you’ve mastered this step, move onto bringing your own branded neck pillow and slanket.

Scavenger hunt

Not just great rhyming slang for a politician. Also a useful and entertaining conference game. Ideally this should be played competitively with others, but time trials are also acceptable. Bear Grylls may have survived in some of the world’s toughest environments, but I can’t help noticing that even he has wimped out of filming an episode in London’s Excel Centre. If he did, he’d tell you the same as me: your main priorities are water, shelter and food.

A quick scan on the stands should be enough for you to identify your best bets:

• Water: Stands with a barista are great but stands giving out bottled water should be your first stop. These always run out quickly. Calculate how much you will need and acquire a sturdy canvas bag to transport it. Don’t neglect flyers. Some of these contain invites to on-stand drinks receptions later in the day. Keep your empty water bottles; you can refill them with warm Prosecco as the day gets harder.

• Food: Sweep the room for chocolate and baked goods but don’t try to carry the fruit. Simply mark the location of the fruit platters in your conference programme for later reference.

• Shelter: Make friends with the representatives on stands that have sofas and phone chargers. Pretend you want to buy legal services/pipe lagging/bulk DNA testing services as required. Also look out for long conference tables with floor length tablecloths; these are excellent for napping under.

Conference Boggle

This game is expert-level but worth the effort. You’ll need to prepare in advance, and it works better with multiple players. Pre-print tiny stickers with letters of the alphabet on it. As you move through the conference hall you and your fellow players surreptitiously place the stickers on the back of people’s left shoulder. When everyone takes their seats for the keynote presentation, sit near the rear of the hall.

The winner is the person who leaves the conference hall with the longest list of words made from adjacent shoulder-letters. If you are on stage – say in a panel discussion – you can play the same game with no advanced preparation, simply use the first letter on each conference pass.

If conference Boggle doesn’t liven up your day then you can always do your Christmas shopping: stress toys, gonks, USB sticks, water bottles and tiny branded lip balms all make excellent stocking fillers. Alternatively just spend the day collecting business cards and storing them in an empty Panini sticker album. Whenever anyone hands you a card, eye it suspiciously and compare it to the ones you already have; people will soon leave you alone to enjoy your scavenged haul, pre-loved Prosecco and Boggle dictionary.

Right kiddos, that’s everything you need to know for now. Go forth and conference well.


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Written by Dotty Winters

Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.