Learning to make the most of trade fairs

I recently spent a day exhibiting bquest at a trade fair, the North-east Expo at Newcastle, UK. The knees were shot after a day of standing, I had a headache from the lack of fresh air in the exhibition hall, and my jaw hurt from smiling at everyone. So, normal.

What does this have to do with a blog about employee development and business growth?

From this experience of exhibiting bquest, I have a few observations firstly about exhibiting your business effectively, and, if you are a visitor to an exhibition, about how to make the most of your time when walking round. As a busy manager, you don’t often get time out from the daily pressures of work, so make the most of them.

For exhibitors at trade fairs – connect with visitors!

1) Watch the eyes of visitors as they walk around. Some people can walk around without apparently seeing anything. Others walk around looking at their mobile phone. Some don’t look up, keeping their eyes down and
looking at what’s on the table displays. Others seem to look at you but actually look through you. Only a few actively make eye contact and look carefully at what you have to offer!

From this I conclude that you have to have something about you that will catch visitors’ eyes. A knockout banner stand? An interactive table display? A snazzy suit? Or maybe you can stand out in front of the table and approach people as they walk past? Whatever, you have to get eye contact with them to connect with them!

Of course, you can’t spend a lot of time with everyone. Ideally, you only want to engage with potential customers, so you should do some mental filtering and profile the ideal customers you might want. As this is very difficult to do accurately, I first try and connect with anyone and everyone who passes by, with a few words, and only when I have a few clues about who they are, what they do, what their interest is do I then
decide whether to try and engage more deeply with them and progress the conversation.

2) My work involves ‘developing people’. Almost all visitors will have preconceived ideas what this means. They are not experts in people development. So I try and have a five second description to help visitors understand me. In answer to the often asked question “What do you do?” I say “I am a specialist in developing people to develop their business. I am not a trainer or academic. I focus on coaching owners and managers to solve problems, to implement important change projects, to grow the business and to make more profit. For some companies, I also provide a complete system of continuing development at work for key employees.”

And I have a handout that repeats this ready to give out.

If they show signs of interest at this point, I then continue by asking them what their interests are. If they show no signs, I don’t say any more and I let them decide whether they want to continue talking with me. In a trade fair, you have to be tough on time but friendly with people.

3) After any conversation that I think should be followed up after the exhibition, I make a few notes, usually on the business card they give me. If I don’t, I can never distinguish one person from another at a later date. My notes are ‘triggers’ which, when I read them the next day, trigger memories of the person and why they are interesting to me.

These observations are by no means a comprehensive guide; maybe though they trigger some thoughts about what might work for you.

For visitors to trade fairs – be selective and purposeful!

1) Honestly, this is so mind-numbingly simple…….. Prepare before you go! What are your concerns, goals, interests, etc? Who do you want to see? Plan your route around the fair to optimize your time. I don’t know about you but after a couple of hours of walking round anything (fairs, museums, galleries, shops) I have had enough, I get banner-stand blind.

So use your time budget wisely.

2) When walking round, stop and look ahead as far as you can see and scan each exhibitor. You should be standing in a neutral place, not connected to any exhibitor. Pick the ones you want to take a closer look at, and walk past the others, avoiding eye contact, to get to them. This way, you can usually avoid being sold to by people whose products or services you don’t want. (If you pass an exhibitor who, out of the corner of your eye, looks like they maight be interesting, you can always come back.) Of course, if you pass an exhibitor who has taken my advice to exhibitors above, you might still get collared; then you have to have a simple script to politely decline, for example “I’m sorry, but I am tight for time and I have few key people I must meet. If I have any spare time I will come back.” And walk on.

These observations seem to me banal and obvious. They are common sense, But, sadly, from the exhibition today it is clear they are not common practice.!



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