Thought about holding a stall at a conference to present your research or to use the opportunity to network, but found the prospect too daunting or too expensive? Here are some quick and simple ways to ensure that you maximise the opportunity to inspire people about your research whilst keeping the costs low.
Holding a stall at a conference can be a great way to:
Expose your research or organisation to a wider audience and even evidence public engagement
Source future collaborative partners and scope out alternate future funding for research projects
Identify and target end users for your research outcomes or resulting policy advice
Network and gain feedback on your research findings
Clarify your own thoughts by talking about the research with others, an added bonus for future presentations about your research project or findings!
The problems with holding a stall:
What if no one approaches the stall?
What if you end up wasting money on business cards and leaflets that no one takes away?
What if you miss time that could be spent attending other informative sessions at the conference?
What if the research project is collaborative or presenting the research is too complex?
Simple Tips and Tricks to hold an engaging and cost-effective conference stall:
Be prepared and be confident
Remember to proof read and print posters, business cards, research summaries or policy briefings in advance
Have a list of extra resources and where to find them for referring interested attendees. For example, full research papers, blogging platforms, websites and additional literature or similar research projects
Smile, even if you don’t feel confident, it will make the stall more approachable
Use eye catching props to draw people to the stall, even if it is only to ask ‘What is that strange object?’
Use posters to get your point across, a picture is worth a thousand words!
Utilise social media to reach out to wider audiences and make attendees aware of your stall. Taking photos and posting them on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram is a great and low cost promotional tool that can also be used as part of a wider advocacy strategy
Remember that not everyone (even those at a dedicated conference) is a specialist in the given field, so talk in accessible language and try not to use jargon
Have a way to collect contact details either by exchanging business cards, noting down emails onto an Excel spreadsheet or simply writing them down
Worried about wasting paper? If you have access to a portable tablet it can be useful to note down contacts or to generate QR codes for quickly directing to people to online research publications or websites. If you want to go completely paperless you could download relevant material to memory sticks and hand them out instead of using leaflets
These tips and tricks were picked up when CommsConsult’s social reporting team attended the World Water Congress in Edinburgh last month. The conference included an innovative session held by ICLEI which aimed to user test climate adaption models by incorporating audience participation and a lively panel discussion held by the IDRC as part of a day-long event presenting southern led research on climate change and water.
Examples of effective strategies used by stall holders at the conference included WaterAid’s use of a giant and colourful prop to encourage people to post to social media and the Knowledge Transfer Network’s use of multiple posters and plastic pockets to collect and relay back business cards, as a way of remotely networking for researchers who couldn’t attend the event themselves.
Some additional resources which are useful if you are planning on attending, presenting at, or organising a conference include:
1. How to conquer the conference
2. How to make a low cost and effective promotional video material for conferences
3. How to present complex data
4. Guidelines for live tweeting from an academic conference (the Guardian)
5. A guide to making research posters (Wellcome Trust) and tips on developing effective research posters for public engagement (NCCPE)