Thursday, 27 January 2011

How To Exhibit Successfully At Trade Shows - Part Four

All Present & Correct

In Parts One, Two and Three I talked about the various stages of preparation for exhibiting at trade shows. Today I'm going to spend a few minutes thinking about what you do on the day(s) of the show to give yourself the best chance of winning new contacts and hopefully new business.

Now in a nutshell, it's all about being professional, and of course we all are, aren't we? So today, I expect it will all be teaching grandmothers to suck eggs, but just in case...

What to wear?
Frankly, as long as you wear something clean, I don't think this is a major issue. Obviously eggy drips down the tie, or stains on the shirt are a 'no-no', but most people would expect you to wear the type of clothes you'd wear to work when you're meeting a client. These days that can cover a wide range, so choose something you feel comfortable in and make sure it's clean.

Some businesses ask employees to wear a corporate shirt, this can work well, particularly on big stands, where visitors will want to be able to easily identify a person to talk to. If you don't have a uniform of any sort, then make sure you have a name badge and wear it where a visitor will be able to see it - the current trend for wearing lanyards doesn't help - nobody wants people to be peering at their nether regions when they make conversation.

Do your visitors a favour and type your name clearly and in a big enough font to be easily readable.

On a point of comfort, ladies, my advice is, take two pairs of shoes to the show, and alternate them every couple of hours. Try and have them with a small heel, not flat. If you're not used to standing all day, it really takes it out of your feet, and if your feet are crippling you, it's not going to make you the happiest person to do business with, so put vanity to one side and think comfort.

I also always use those little gel pads you can buy which give added comfort for the balls of your feet. I've made a few friends at shows when I've give a spare pair to fellow exhibitors who've started to hurt.

Exhibition halls vary in ambient temperature, but if you've a lot of lights on your stand, it will probably get quite warm, so don't go too thickly clad.

Body Language.
Don't underestimate the power of the messages your body language is giving to visitors. What you want,  is for people to feel happy to approach you, to be willing for you to speak to them and to walk onto your stand to see/hear more. So there are some basic things you should avoid.

Standing with folded arms - it looks aggressive and says 'don't mess with me'
Standing on the edge of the stand with other colleagues  - it creates a barrier that only brave visitors will dare to breach.
Being deep in conversation with colleagues when visitors are passing - they'll be too polite to interrupt you and go to your competitors stand instead.
Sitting down - I know some people will disagree with this, but I've seen it in action so many times, and people are much happier to talk to someone face to face at eye-level. Sitting down looks like you can't be bothered to interact with the visitor and it puts all the onus of action on to them rather than the exhibitor, so it's a bit arrogant, like saying 'Well here I am, it's up to you, take it or leave it' - most will leave it.
Eating - there's nothing quite like watching a stranger negotiating an egg and mayonnaise sandwich to convince me I don't want to talk to them - just don't put yourself in that position. When you're hungry, go to the cafe, or suck a small sweet to keep you going. Visitors don't appreciate the smell, sounds or sights of watching exhibitors eating on the stand. If you're on your own and have to stay at the stand all day, have a few discreet biscuits to nibble if things slow down for a while.
Drinking - OK water won't upset anyone (as long as you remove used plastic cups immediately after use), but banish all thoughts of alcohol. You can guarantee that the least desirable visitors will take advantage, while the ones you really should be talking to, will be revolted and keep well away away. On just a couple of occasions, I've seen exhibitors a bit the worse for wear, and believe you me, they weren't  writing any orders.

Now of course I know you'd never do any of the above, but I'll bet you any money, the next trade fair you go to, you'll spot some of it going on.

So knowing what to avoid, what can you do to increase the welcome you present to visitors?

The simplest thing to do, is to smile and look interested. Look eager and you'd be surprised how many people will be drawn to you.

Have a few open questions you can start conversations with, such as 'Where are you based?', or 'What sort of thing are you looking for today?' It's important not to ask questions that can be answered 'yes' or 'no', because they're the conversation stoppers. Instead try and gain their attention in a gentle but open way. But please avoid the hard sell at this point, that's a real turn-off.

One of the easiest ways to start a conversation with total strangers is to have something to give them. Think carefully about what would work for you - avoid bags and pens - they're both useful and people will take them from you, but they won't expect to talk to you in return. No, instead think of something small but interesting that takes you a moment to explain - that way they'll be intrigued by what it is, and have to listen to you while you talk about it. You should then quickly be able to turn the conversation with an open question and away you go.

If you have a small low cost product that you could afford to give-away, that's a good idea, but if you really can't find anything to hand out, then have a prize draw and hand out entry slips. You could say something like 'enter our prize draw, it's easy, just give us your name and number', then offer to staple their business card to the entry form or fill in their name and phone number. Of course this then gives you the chance to start a conversation.

Trade shows can be exhausting, so if you have the opportunity to take turns on the stand and grab a break from time to time, then do so. But even if you're tired, it's essential that you try not to show it - you're on show the whole time, and it's a horrible truth that the really attractive potential buyers so often turn up at the end of the day. Just remember, they don't last forever and you can build excellent contacts at trade fairs, so it's worth putting a brave face on it.

In Part Five, 'Tell Them You're There', I'll be looking at things you can do to increase the number of people who come to your stand. 

If you haven't read the previous posts, have a browse around.
Part One - To Exhibit Or Not To Exhibit, That Is The Question...
Part Two - Getting Started
Part Three - Creating A Brilliant Exhibition Stand
Part Six - Home & Dry

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