How do you maximise the opportunities when exhibiting at trade shows, expos and industry events?
There is usually a huge cost in booking your space, setting up your stand and having people in attendance throughout the event so you want to capitalise on every opportunity.
I was recently asked by the Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia to present a session for exhibitors at their careers evening in Perth, Western Australia. At this event, 33 exhibitors representing the big four and mid-tier accounting firms, mining companies, banks and even the Tax Department would be vying for the attention of over 500 final year accountancy students from four tertiary institutions.
Below are the 12 tips I shared with the exhibitors plus a bonus tip. I’ve adapted these slightly to suit a broader exhibiting audience. Bonus Tip 13 will help you to prepare a checklist for the appearance of your people and your stand.
1. Be clear about the different profiles of people who will be attending
From these, who do you want to attract? And who would be unsuitable for your requirements? Work out your qualifying questions in advance.
You don’t want your people to be bogged down in lengthy discussions with unsuitable visitors and have the very people you want to attract walk away because they couldn’t get to talk with you.
On the other hand, beware of treating attendees as if they are ‘tyre kickers’. Some visitors who may not be the right profile for your organisation can turn out to be great word-of-mouth ambassadors. They bump into friends and associates at the event and say “You really must go and check out XYZ. They’re way out of our league but what they’re offering would be just right for you and they’re so friendly and helpful.”
2. Think like an attendee
At a Careers Expo it is likely that it is your recent graduates that the attendees will relate to. It’s not that long ago that they were walking in the shoes of the attendees. To further help this process there are two questions you need to think through:
1) What did you do when you attended events like this?
2) What else do you wish you had done and why?
Now discuss what each of you has identified from these two questions; and from this work out what you need to do to help attendees get real value from this event.
3. Your purpose in exhibiting
Your purpose in exhibiting is to be noticed, remembered, trusted and preferred. By being noticed, I’m referring to the good side of noticed. If you are still busy setting things up as the first attendees walk in, that’s the bad side of noticed!
You are on show and must be prepared and ready for the first people walking in.
4. What makes you approachable?
Smiling with an open stance – This relaxes you and your demeanor and body language give off the right message to attendees.
A readable name badge – this tells them that you are a real person rather than a company representative.
Be seen to be listening to others – when you listen others notice. Your body language is saying to attendees, “You are important.” Attendees want to talk with someone who makes them feel like that.
Being seen laughing with other attendees – This relaxes people which makes it easier for them to approach you.
5. What keeps attendees away?
Is that your attitude showing? – Sometimes team members are press ganged into assisting at careers events and other trade shows. If they are thinking, “This is a waste of time. I have more important things to do than be here” it will come across to attendees. Your thoughts and beliefs drive your body language and voice tone. People subconsciously pick up on this.
The sentry stance – arms crossed and feet apart like a bouncer at a night club. It’s the ‘Thou shalt not pass’ stance.
Looking as if you are ready to pounce – attendees don’t like to feel they are being swooped on by a bird of prey.
How you hold your brochures or booklets – without even being aware of it this can be a barrier that makes you less approachable. Put your brochures and give-aways down. They can create a barrier between you and the attendees particularly if you hold them in front of your chest.
Checking your phone – It may be a quiet moment at your stand as you talk, text or scroll on your phone. However, the message this gives off is ‘I’m busy, don’t interrupt me’. Even from a distance people will notice and avoid you. Go off your stand or to a curtained off area to make calls and check your phone.
Closed in conversation with other staff – this also gives off the ‘don’t interrupt me’ vibe.
Seen locked in a conversation with one person – this gives the ‘Oh oh’ warning. Other attendees will avoid you so they don’t get similar treatment.
6. Opening phrases
Avoid the novice opening lines such as ‘How are you? Can I help you? Need some assistance? Would you like a brochure?’
They encourage answers like “Fine”, “Good” and “No thanks, just looking” which gets you nowhere and the attendees just walk off with your brochure.
Of course some attendees may have specific questions for you and will initiate the conversation, which is great.
Good opening questions for you could include:
“What have you found useful so far?”
“What are you looking for from attending today?”
“What brings you here?”
“What would be helpful for you to know about us/our product?”
7. How attendees take in information
There are three main ways people take in information:
Attendees are being bombarded by sensory stimuli every second that they are at your event. While different types of attendees will have more of a bias towards one than the others, all three factors are involved in them absorbing information; and research shows that up to 95% of the impressions that are created may be happening at a subconscious level.
You need to be aware of this and be doing everything possible to be viewed in the most favourable light.
Just as one example of the visual stimuli let’s consider personal presentation. You need to have a smart, casual image perhaps in matching uniforms or t-shirts and be well groomed. From my experience, most exhibitors do this fairly well… from the ankles up. Below the ankles is often forgotten. Yet it is sending a message even with students at a careers expo. What message does the state of your footwear give them about accuracy, professionalism and attention to detail in your company?
8. Your purpose in answering a question
When you answer an attendee’s question you have three objectives to meet:
1) To answer concisely and accurately
2) To phrase your answer in a way that is easy for the attendee to understand
3) To make the person feel good about having asked the question
It is this third objective that most people rarely think about.
Yet, it is crucial to making the attendee feel comfortable with you. Many attendees worry about asking ‘dumb’ questions and as a result don’t really open up and share with you their queries and concerns. When you make them feel good they become more confident and are more likely to share the real issues that matter to them. For example you can say, “I’m glad you asked”, “That’s a good question”, “That’s interesting, I haven’t been asked that today.”
9. Identify the common point of interest
Initial conversation is about establishing common ground. Ask open-ended questions that are likely to identify a connection then share an insight that is relevant to them. For example at a Careers Expo this is likely to be – “I never realised till I started working here that…”
Match your ‘common point of interest’ (CPI) to the individual. It’s not a standard point. You may have three or four alternative insights that you can select from. These are things that give them a behind the scenes glimpse of what it’s like to work for an organisation like yours.
10. Your ‘What Next?’ strategy
Having identified suitable candidates, be clear about what you want them to do and what you will do. Have a couple of clearly crafted and agreed upon action statements to guide them to the next step.
For example, “Based on what you’ve said I should get your details and…” or “Have you registered for our… yet? Here’s what you need to do.”
11. Engaging with multiple attendees when one-on-one isn’t possible
Most of us are more confident when directing our comments and attention to one person. At an event like a careers expo this isn’t always possible. Here are some pointers:
Don’t focus purely on one member of the group
Use inclusive body language
Deflect one comment or question to the others after acknowledging the first person e.g. “Good question, is that something that would be of interest to others here?”
Ask (then address) a specific qualifying question of the group and gauge the reaction of different attendees. Aim your follow up comments at those who are with you. That way, some may drop off and other attendees who are interested can take their place.
12. Disengaging from people who corner you
Use active listening techniques to get them to the point. After confirming understanding, follow up with, “I’d best not dominate your time here, I’m sure you’ve others to check out. By all means come back if you’ve any further questions.”
Have a recognised rescue code with your colleagues. Even if everyone else is involved with other attendees, you can call out, “Does anyone have our D3 flyers?” This could be code for, “Help, someone rescue me fast!” A colleague then might say, “Sorry I think we’re out of the D3 flyers but I’ve got an attendee here who is asking a question that relates to your area of expertise. Could you join us for a moment?”
If you need to move on unsuitable candidates do so tactfully without offending them. Rather than “No, you don’t qualify because your grades aren’t good enough”, phrase it as “Provided your grades are…” And rather than a blunt statement of your criteria along the lines of “To be considered you must…” phrase it “Our current criteria for selection are…” The implication is then at some time in the future there may be opportunities for this attendee. As we all know, some people are late bloomers and we don’t want to belittle them when there is no need to.
The tips above were written for a short careers evening. Many of the events you exhibit at will be a lot longer from field days at regional expos to two or three day exhibitions. Here is an important tip for these longer events.
13. Bonus Tip: Prepare a checklist for the appearance of your people and your stand
Wear smart, comfortable footwear each day. If you have inappropriate footwear, your feet and back will soon be aching and you will spend more time sitting down. This makes you look less welcoming and approachable – unless you are sitting down with an attendee.
The stand should be as presentable 35, 65 and 95% of the way through the event as it is at the start. Your most valuable client can arrive at any time and they will judge you based on what they see.
Regularly check your display and promotional materials and ensure they look ‘picture perfect’.
Dirty coffee cups should be kept out of sight. It’s amazing how they take away from the professionalism of your stand.
Do not eat at your stand.
These are just a few of the points to include on your checklist. Go over this prior to each event and seek input from all team members who will be on show. Your reputation is at stake which makes this an invaluable exercise.