Attending the Midlands Venues Showcase last week at Conference Aston reminded me of our monthly farmers market at the crack of dawn on a wet and cold Saturday morning in the middle of winter - before any of the locals have emerged. (Picture: Conference Aston Birmingham)

You walk around as a solitary buyer and you feel the penetrating gazes from the sellers in the back of your head. Their message is clear but silent: ‘come here for the very best carrots in the land’; ‘step this way to sample the smelliest cheese you will ever taste’ and so on. – no pressure there.

Whilst the attendance at the farmers market usually picks up by mid-morning – sadly this was not the case at the Venue Showcase. Sales pitches were left undelivered. Only a handful of people heard the benefits of the revolutionary new 8-hour conference chair. The new extensions were quietly forgotten for want of an audience. The dietary innovations taking place to liven up the future of the conference lunch would have been a winner, if the story had been told. But very few people were there to hear it.

It was a pity because I sensed a mood of optimism from the exhibitors which has been absent for the last few years. The venues are investing, decorating, extending, changing décor, improving their technology, changing their menus, introducing free wi-fi. The venues have plenty of encouraging news to tell – it was just a pity there were so few people there to hear it.