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Secrets of survival

Dazed and sore-footed after the slog of another education exhibition? Advance plan ning can prevent post-show blisters, says Gerald Haigh

Show me someone slumped in an armchair, eyes glazed, hand loosely clasped round a glass of something, feet gently parboiling in a Clairol foot spa, and I'll show you someone who's spent the day at an education show.

Is it worth the effort? Obviously so - neither exhibitors nor visitors would keep turning up if it wasn't a good idea to get lots of suppliers and customers together in the same place. If you're not careful, though, and ready to plan in advance, a show visit can end up as miles of aimless wandering in an artificially lit and crowded world. If that appeals, you can achieve the same effect by arriving at Heathrow four hours before you're due to check in.

However, help is at hand. I've been to endless exhibitions - both as visitor and exhibitor - and I've picked up a few secrets of survival.

The first thing is not to go alone. Some schools close down for a training day and send everybody. If that can't be done, it ought to be possible to send two people at least (just as when you send two people on a course, you get more than twice the value).

The next thing is to study the handouts and the map and plan a route around the halls (see map page 11) which takes in the areas you're interested in.

That may seem obvious, but you still see those who prefer the aimless wandering option - the result of which is that even more walking is involved as people try to find their way back to the interesting things they saw earlier. When you study the plan of the halls, take in the scale and the orientation. You don't want to stand in a crowded aisle twizzling the map.

"Look, if that's the east entrance, then this should be area H, so why does it say W?"

Should you split up? Yes, if there's a decent-sized party. Send people off on a reconnaissance of their specialisms, then rendezvous to take stock after a maximum of two hours. If there's only two of you, though, I'd say, stick together. You'll support each other in conversations with the suppliers; one thinking of questions while the other listens or watches a computer screen.

Make good notes of the useful encounters - believe me you won't remember as much as you think you will. And do not rely too heavily on your mobile phones for keeping in touch. They're difficult to hear in a crowded exhibition hall. Better to use text - and keep your phone close and on vibrate. Some stands, especially big ones, will be staffed by PR people. If you're genuinely interested you need to get past them to the people who really know the answers. If this doesn't happen, be assertive and ask to see someone. And try not to get stuck in a multimedia presentation when you've already got what you need from a chat and a handout.

Spend time on the "little" stands - the ones around the edges and in the corners. They're there because they're cheaper to hire, but you can almost guarantee finding something interesting that's being done on a shoestring.

Be selective about attending seminars, because they take up time. If you're going as a team, you may have to apply some discipline to this, dictating who should go to what. And never be afraid to leave if you end up in one that doesn't work for you.

Finally, take breaks, because you need to recharge. As you go round, take note of the feeding stations so you can find them when it's time. It's best to have lunch at an off-peak time, which may mean carrying a mid-morning snack to keep you going until 2pm.

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