Public events are a great opportunity to make CABI more visible and enlighten others on how our work is improving livelihoods all over the world. As a regular on the conference circuit, I know the value and challenges of organising a stand at an event. Most recently I attended the 1st All Africa Post Harvest Congress and Exhibition in Nairobi, Kenya. Even before I finished setting up the stand, I could guarantee visitors would ask me questions like, “So what does CABI do?” and “Where is CABI based?” – I was proved right, but came prepared for organising a stand at an event. Here are 6 lessons learned I want to share with you.
The conference, held in March 2017, was the first of its kind and focused on “Reducing Food Losses and Waste: Sustainable Solutions for Africa”. Sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and convened by the University of Nairobi, the congress brought together over 500 diverse stakeholders in the agricultural sector including researchers, academics, farmers, traders, innovators, entrepreneurs, development agencies, civil society and policy makers from all over the world (1st All Africa Post Harvest Congress and Exhibition Programme, 2017).
My task was to exhibit CABI products and services throughout the weeklong conference. Our little stand experienced a significant amount of traffic and proved a great platform to publicise what the organisation does and its contribution in the fight for food security, as well as to establish and strengthen partnerships with relevant stakeholders.
Manning the CABI stand proved a reflective time for me, to see how different stakeholders react to hearing about our work.
Here are 6 things I’ve drawn from this and past conferences:
- Know your audience: Someone visiting a stand in a conference is looking for information that will address their need, for example; filling a gap in their knowledge, getting access to markets or looking for funding opportunities, amongst other reasons. They are also looking for interesting material, such as a new innovation they have not heard of before, that will expose them to the latest developments in the agricultural sector. In such cases, an organisation needs to showcase its unique selling point in a captivating way.
- Prominent stand location: placement of a stand is crucial in determining traffic. It needs to be strategically placed in an area where people will be quick to spot it.
- Know what you’re talking about: the individual manning the stand is required to know about relevant project activities going on in CABI, the individuals responsible and articulate them well.
- Display high impact materials: Based on interactions with farmers and extension workers, they appreciate simplified actionable content in printed materials. This, I must say, is no different when dealing with other audiences. Summary cards on crop pests and diseases displayed at the stand were quickly grabbed. The audience liked its design which aids quick reference to a crop, simple representation of information and its size.
- Tailor your message to event theme: Conferences tend to focus on specific agricultural themes. Linking CABI’s projects and services to the theme of the day is important for attracting people to your stand. Such was the case in the Africa Post Harvest Congress where we showcased CABI’s efforts in post harvest management techniques with bead drying technology. It generated quite a stir, with people requesting the price, time of roll out, where it can be found, and whether it was suitable for small and large scale farmers.
- Use social media: How do we forget the all-important social media user? They use such conferences to leverage their profiles and visibility. Our digital audience engaged heavily with our social media accounts, with messages about the event receiving the highest number of impressions and interactions.
To conclude, exhibitions remain a vital channel for CABI in forging partnerships, increasing traffic to a website, generating innovative ideas, learning, meeting old friends and even fast-tracking work previously agreed upon. When the opportunity presents itself, seize it.
Blog written by Abigael Mchana, CABI