Public Affairs: Soap Box - Ralph Jackson, board director, Lansons Communications

One down, two to go in conference season. As the Liberal Democrats kicked off in Liverpool at the beginning of the week there were noticeably more people present than in previous years. Reflecting on the Lib Dem bash and looking ahead to the next two, there are three things this year that are more important than ever for everyone attending these gatherings.

First, public affairs practitioners need a carefully crafted plan for each conference. Knowing your venues, especially the hotels, and knowing key personalities is crucial. This year's new venues bring challenges, as do the ministers now straddling two parties, so plan strategically. Keep on side with the party insiders who can help with both key meetings and events not listed in the fringe guide.

Second, set expectations but don't neglect other options. Conference is about the art of the possible. It is not just about meeting the great and good - the unsung are also important. Should you get blown out of that 'very critical meeting' don't panic; quietly remind the person's bag carrier that you tried and will contact them post-conference.

Remember too that conference is also a valuable networking occasion with your peers and journalists, who will have more time on their hands than usual, so don't forget to work those links.

And third, keep hydrated (and I mean that!). Those who have never experienced party conferences cannot appreciate the hours spent networking and running from event to event, forgetting about eating or drinking properly.

Essentially, conference week is a survival course, but don't forget that it is only one week - although three in total - out of a whole year's worth of lobbying. Remember that and keep your aspirations in perspective.

And good luck.

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