The team travelled up the afternoon before to set up and went for a wonderful meal out in rural Warwickshire which was very civilised but on returning to the Ricoh, the lure of the onsite casino proved too strong to resist. As a casino virgin I was not really sure what to expect but was slightly disappointed by the swirling retro carpets and cheesy lighting. I have since been informed that it may have been trying to go for the Scarface look. Upon arrival we saw a few exhibitors and brokers already propping up the bar and joined them for a few (too many) drinks.
And so before we knew it the alarm shrilly announced it was time for action and we headed down for battle. Although last year's Expo was held at the Ricoh, we moved this year's to a larger exhibition hall and the difference was palpable. It was a hit last year but it was also very crowded - the new hall was spacious and smacked of professionalism. The air was buzzing and the exhibitors were ready to tempt brokers often with sweet treats as well as deals.
Once fed with bacon butties, the brokers descended upon the morning workshops. Branko Bjelobaba's take on what brokers need to know about FSA compliance was spot on. It is a difficult subject to hold people's attention for 45 minutes but Branko's advice was so clear and concise, one broker told me he found the workshop excellent. Pretty good going for such a dry, heavy subject matter. Stephen Archer's workshop on how to grow your business was smoothly delivered and he used some inspiring examples from other industries to show how smaller companies can compete with the big boys.
Despite his buddy and presenting partner being struck down with a dodgy tum, Neil Johnson of marketing firm Lamb rose to the challenge, giving an inspiring talk on brand and its importance in growing a successful business while Alan Fairweather, aka 'The Motivation Doctor', engaged the audience with a stirring speech on how to sell yourself. While his point on wearing a t-shirt with your own face on it was perhaps a step too far for me, some of the more bolshy brokers seemed to think it was a good idea.
The broker clinics provided one to one guidance on how to get on with social media, regulation, broker start ups and website usability. Of the four, social media seemed to be the one that pulled in the biggest crowd so I expect to see more brokers putting the good advice into practice and following BrokingLiz on Twitter in the near future please.
The day reached a peak around lunchtime and moving round the stands, it seemed as though there was a lot of talking and hand shaking taking place. As brokers and exhibitors fed back to me, there was a consensus that the Broker Expo was a place where serious business took place.
That's not to say that a lot of fun wasn't had either - After lunch time Aviva started putting a bit of a kick in its fruity cocktails and for those nursing a hangover, APC's central stand was serving up delicious, and for many vital, caffeine hits with its own barista. Beazley had an extremely talented balloon artist who transfixed me as he effortlessly created a cute little monkey scampering up a balloon tree to get a bunch of balloon bananas. I would have asked him if I could take it home but thought I might look a little foolish on the train back to Euston.
The day ended with a charity auction ran expertly by Mr Friel and Mr Gould. In all, the 10 lots raised about £2,500 for the Children's Trust and lucky bidders walked away with steals like England rugby tickets, a cottage holiday and tickets to the Cirque de Soleil.
The IA team even found time for a cheeky celebratory beer in the bar before we caught the train home. According to reports, everyone was in bed by 9.30pm. Zzzzzzzzzzz
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