My first conference  Natalie Henshall with Essentia at IHEEM (Institute of Healthcare Engineering and Estate Management)

My first conference Natalie Henshall with Essentia at IHEEM (Institute of Healthcare Engineering and Estate Management)

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I made the train journey to Manchester recently to attend the Healthcare Estates 2014 conference organised by IHEEM (Institute of Healthcare Engineering and Estate Management). People had given me lots of advice and tips based on their experience, but this was my first time attending a conference.

There seem to be 5 reasons why people go to a conference:

1. to attend talks and presentations from people who are experts in their fields

2. to see what’s current within that field

3. to build relationships and networks

4. to tell people what your company is doing

5. to pick up freebies and giveaways

For me the conference started with Alexandra Hammond’s presentation on ‘Transforming the Way the NHS Cuts Energy Costs and Carbon Emissions’. Alexandra is Essentia’s sustainability expert and I got a real sense of pride from watching the crowded room of 60+ people listen intently as she outlined the journey Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust are on to cut energy costs and deliver significant savings. Boxes 1 and 2 ticked.

Following this I was on countdown to what I considered the highlight of the night – the awards dinner. So, after a quick walk around the conference to get the lay of the land and explore the variety of exhibitors there (boxes 3, 4 and 5!), it was off to get ready for dinner.

Dinner was a rather glitzy black tie affair and a great opportunity to speak to others (3 and 4 again) as people mixed and mingled more freely. It was a big night for those of us involved in the Guy’s Tower Recladding project as we were one of four finalists up for Project Team of the Year award. Unfortunately we didn’t walk away that evening with a trophy, but the experience has made me even more determined to explore other award opportunities (and attend more award dinners).

What was most apparent over the course of the two-day conference was that the social aspect was an integral part of the conference’s success for many of the delegates and suppliers. There’s the rush you feel when speaking to potential new clients and the fun of visiting other suppliers and comparing who has the best freebies – chocolate and sweets are firm favourites. There’s also a real sense of camaraderie between exhibitors which I found surprising; people will watch each other’s stalls, go on coffee runs for each other, share promotional items and even keep each other entertained during the quiet moments when you’ve got nothing to do but sit at your stand and wait for the next wave of visitors.

In summary: in two days I learned a lot, I met many interesting people, I represented my company and I came home exhausted. Would I go again? Absolutely!