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Let’s confer

Come, let us sit upon the ground
And tells sad stories of the death of kings

So, another year and another Conference goes by.

This year’s BMF All Industry Conference was the biggest for some years in terms of attendance and certainly gave the audience something to think about. And, as is our way, moan about.

Having been involved in organising the Industry Conference for four years, I know how nigh-on impossible it is to please all of the people, all of the time.

Some view the event as an opportunity to get a few days in the sun, often, but not always, accompanied by one’s spouse, on the company shilling. Others view it as one of the best value networking opportunities there is. Let’s face it, handled right, you can see a huge number of customers and suppliers over the four days. In numbers that it would cost a lot more if you had to get in the beemer and shlep round the country to do it.

Whether you are doing formally via Meet the Merchant, or over coffee in the corridor discussing the last speaker, the benefits of meeting with like-minded peers are pretty clear to everyone who attends. The Meet the Merchant sessions over the years have migrated from informal discussions during the lunch break to the structured ‘speed-dating’ afternoon marathon that we had in Malta.

For some, the lure of the swimming pool is always too much, but for many this session is an opportunity to open dialogue that can be followed up at a later date, a chance to get your name and face in front of a customer that you may not deal with – yet. The advent of the strictly-controlled independent buying group agreements might seem to make these meetings little more than empty chats, but agreements are never forever. And, as one merchant said to me last week: “the suppliers commit a lot of money to be sponsors at this event. The least we as merchants can do is listen to what they have to say for 15 minutes.” Well, quite.

The main bulk of the conference business is, of course, the formal presentations and it’s here, more than anywhere else, that it’s so hard to find that perfect pitch. For me, Alastair Campbell gave us a Masterclass in how to present. He was in a different league to anyone I’ve seen before. I never buy motivational, how-to-succeed books. I bought his.

Stewart Hill made me cry, real cheek-soaking tears, pretty much from the get-go. Kriss Akabusi had me wanting to stand up and scream him home when he showed the race, even though I watched it live on telly in 1991 and have seen it a hundred times since. Anna Hemmings’ tale of focus and commitment to battle and overcome illness was awe-inspiring, while Mark Mallinder showed us how to make it industry relevant and specific.

They were my particular highlights this time, though that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy listening to the others and I’ve been banging on about my swimming lesson with Sharron Davies ever since.

There’s always something of interest to take back from all of these speeches if you try hard enough. Some messages stay with you for a long time, some don’t make it through customs, but that’s not to say they weren’t worth listening to in the first place. You get out of a conference what you put into it. The organisers – the BMF this year, NMBS next year – provide the performers and the platform. It’s up to us what we get from it.

Mind you, very occasionally, some presentations stay with you for a long time for the wrong reasons. Death by crane, anyone?

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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