Square Meal Venues and Events is an industry-leading exhibition for event professionals. Consequently, it was a no-brainer that I would go.

The 2012 event took place at Old Billingsgate in the City of London over two days last week. Attendance was free, and includes a complimentary breakfast or lunch provided by Office Diner. Last year the event drew in crowds of nearly 8,000 people, and numbers this year are expected to pass 8,500. The four floors of stands were alive with colour and noise, as hotels, venues, caterers and other suppliers battled for attendees’ attention.

The event also hosted some fantastic seminars. I went to “Further Your Career in Events”, which featured a panel of event professionals talking about their experiences in finding event jobs; and “Navigating the Social Media Jungle”, where Square Meal’s Head of Online talked us through all the steps of utilising social media for events. I also went to Mixology for Events run by the enthusiastic Drinking Classes, where I learnt a lot about different types of alcohol, their uses at events, and tasted the first ever G&T that I’ve enjoyed. Another great touch was the screens around the venue streaming Tweets with the event tag #VE12, which gave the event a really interactive feel. I came out of one talk and saw my Tweet about it already up on the screen, and it really made me feel involved.

The exhibits themselves were outstanding. With 280 suppliers in attendance, competition was fierce, and each stall had that extra factor to make it stand out from the rest, be it a cork-shaped USB stick, a cuddly penguin, or a fluorescent slinky. The staff on each stand were nearly universally helpful and friendly, and were happy to answer any questions I had. Two in particular stood out for having great customer service: Funraising and Tylney Hall, both of which I definitely hope to work with in the future. In fact, not a single stall stands out in my mind for poor service.

Despite arriving at 10am (only half an hour after doors opened), I was still rushing around stalls at the end. I walked away with two huge bags of brochures, a ton of new contacts and, most importantly, mountains of ideas for my next event. It was a great experience, and I’m already looking forward to attending again next year.

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