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How to get the most out of Party Conference

13 September 2016

Party Conference season is here. For four consecutive weekends, advocacy colleagues and CEOs will head to cities around the UK to meet with the major political parties at their annual party conference.

We plan events, host stalls, have meetings and attend other events. The days are long, usually 8am until 11pm. The food gets tedious; so many sandwiches and a lot of free alcohol in the evening. But behind the late nights and bad food there is a political machine which is fascinating and ready to be influenced. If you plan your time right you can use conference to ensure your issues are on the political agenda.

If this is your first time at conference, here are my tips to make sure you make the most out of your time there.

  • Get up early, attend the breakfast briefings - they often have a good line-up of speakers including some interesting MPs
  • Hang around in the hotel lobby - each conference has a hotel in the secure zone where MPs stay. You may bump into that MP who you've been trying to meet with and have a short chat
  • If you can’t get access to the MP, Minister, or Secretary of State, attend events where they are speaking. You can ask a question about your issue and it might spark their interest
  • Try and get into the conference hall for the main speeches; the secretaries of state speeches should set a clear policy direction, and you can also learn a lot from watching how the party members respond to the speech
  • Network - it is always helpful to meet other people from the sector and discuss the political atmosphere
  • Head to the Starbucks cafe  - they give free drinks and snacks all day
  • If you are looking to save money go to a lunch time event - most have food.
  • Attend The Times interviews - they are fascinating and give you real insight into the biggest political characters (you get lunch and a paper)
  • Stay up late and head to the bar - not to drink, but to look out for the MPs coming out of the shadows. I’ve managed to find secretaries of state for a chat at the bar
  • Attend Bond members events - it is good to show support for what other people are doing in the sector
  • If you are doing your event do some extra marketing by tweeting using the Conf hashtag, leave flyers in the toilets and tell people about your event when you meet them
  • Remember to pace yourself; if you are attending all conferences you don’t want to completely burn out on the first one
  • Dress smartly; you can bump into anyone at any time so you want to look presentable. Carry copies of your briefings and your business card
  • If it all gets too much, find the Guide Dogs, they always bring a lovely dog to conference

So there you are, a few tips to demystify Party Conference. It really is a fascinating experience and we hope to see you there.

About the author

Ali Louis headshot

Bond's public affairs and government relations manager, Ali has previously worked for Unicef UK and in parliament. She has an MA in International Politics and Development from Newcastle University.