In April 2016, OT invited Jayne Abel, to be their guest Developing Thoughts contributor.

After 25 years of buying and selling at exhibitions globally, I'd like to think I’m a dab hand at exhibition psychology – but the honest truth is, I learn something new with every single one we attend and everyone does it differently.

As the independent practice evolves in the UK marketplace, as do the suppliers and exhibitions. Optrafair is the largest and most established exhibition in the UK and the one in which the vast majority of companies decide to invest large sums of money to showcase their latest products. Optrafair is the perfect platform to progress the independent practice and keep your finger on the pulse with exactly what is happening on the High Street, and to find out what you can do personally to improve your business, clinical skills and patient experience.

So how do I get the most out of an exhibition one may ask? The answer is simple: plan. Don’t just turn up for a little browse and see what catches your eye. Plan, plan and plan. Before the show, do your homework. This starts with taking a look at what your practice actually needs and what you would like to achieve from visiting a show like Optrafair. Get to grips with your stock situation, equipment and suppliers and assess your requirements, formulating a ‘shopping list’ of sorts.

The show itself provides four specific areas which are key to the success of the independent practice: instruments; services; eyewear; and lenses/contact lenses. I’ll take a look at each in turn to explore how to get the most out of your visit…

Optrafair offers you an unrivalled and unique opportunity to compare, discuss and trial companies side by side before making a well informed decision on where to invest your hard earned money to enhance clinical procedures. It's always advisable to research the equipment desired beforehand either online, via colleagues, friends, literature or even a good old fashioned phone call to the companies involved.

Many people don't realise that it's also a great chance to learn how to get more out of your existing equipment and ask about potential software updates which could easily further your knowledge and enhance the diagnosis procedure. Equipment is your largest single purchase, so invest wisely and do your homework.

Surprisingly, many practices don't take advantage of this rapidly growing sector at all. Major chains employ a team of professionals to offer services to their franchisees, should it be marketing, training or even administrative such as insurance for example. The NEG is an extremely proactive group and a one-stop-shop for advising market leaders in most fields. Don’t forget that advice is free so take advantage and ask around. There will also be specialist advisers in all areas at the show.

This is the most visual of all the categories and the sector that is most likely to draw your patients back time after time. The latest fashions, materials, colours and styles will be showcased at the UK’s largest trade convention. It's also the easiest area to get carried away with, so beware and structure your shopping list carefully and think ahead.

Many frame companies plan their new releases around Optrafair and launch their new marketing material and point-of-sale at the show. You will be surprised how much your suppliers can help you with your in-house marketing and social media. Visit your trusted suppliers to take advantage of any promotions they may offer but don't forget to view the latest products from new companies. Again, it’s a great opportunity to see product side by side without any commitment to purchase.

Not to be forgotten, lenses are a vital and integral part of the practice portfolio. It is possibly the single sector with the most current advancements taking place with the introduction of CAD and digital design edging machines pushing the boundaries in terms of sports wraps, rimless and other specialist frame mounting. So it's ideal to check out the latest information sources and speak to local and nationwide Rx houses at the show.

Planning your time is key and cost-effective, and always allow plenty of time to optimise your visit. Print off floor plans from the Optrafair website and highlight the stands you have decided to visit, then work in a methodical way. Many visitors are wise to exhibitions and try to take in the show over a couple of days, allowing time to attend important lectures and attain valuable CET points along the way.

Exhibitions can be fun and should be productive. It's astounding how many new ideas, information sources and innovations will inspire you and contribute to the positive development of your practice and its continued success. Keep up-to-date, keep inspired and keep ahead. Your next exhibition is just ahead, maximise your practice potential and hopefully we will see you at the show very soon.