When was the last time you struck up a conversation with a stranger? For many of us, it's rare to engage in a random, incidental chat with someone we've never met.
Now, if you're in sales, this might be more commonplace for you. However, the challenge to truly connect with that person increases exponentially when your environment is an oversized hall or arena with hundreds (if not thousands) of people shouting to each other in order to be heard.
Welcome to the trade show, one of the most effective yet demanding sales opportunities you may encounter.
Communication with new people is difficult enough even without the din of a trade show cramping your style. But not taking advantage of these opportunities results in wasted potential for your brand. Each new connection creates an opportunity for your brand’s expansion. In anticipating these challenges and more, it's critical to establish your game plan to successfully connect with trade show attendees.
Here are four tips to make sure you are personally prepped to make the most of your trade show networking opportunity.
1. Appear Ready: How you present yourself is equally important to how your display looks. You can easily assert your professionalism and credibility simply by how you dress, as is outlined in a study published by the Journal of Applied Social Psychology: "Competence, confidence, and credibility are judged in the first 12 seconds of an interaction, which is, at least in part, influenced by the clothes one is adorning. In turn, such covert judgments are identified as influencing overt behavior change."
Although formal attire may be the most widely accepted form of dress, consider your company's brand. A suit may not always be appropriate, especially if you are representing a trendy, hipster cafe or a craft beer brewery. Suits may not speak to that audience, so something more "smart casual" may be be appropriate. Regardless of whether you choose slacks or jeans, do give some forethought to your footwear. The odds are you'll be standing on a slab of concrete for a several hours; sitting for an extended period of time at a trade show is not a wise option. (See the next section for details.)
2. Be Engaging: Before moving on from the topic of attire, consider what you are wearing right now. Do your workout clothes give you added energy? Do your formal clothes increase your desire to be productive? Research shows that clothes not only project a certain image to others, but also have the power to affect the way we feel about ourselves. In a Huffington Post article, multiple studies conclude that "understanding the psychological dynamics of why the right-for-us clothing can contribute to our confidence, raise our self esteem, and help propel us in the workplace has become big business."
Engagement also does not necessarily mean what we say to the passers-by. The book, The Definitive Book of Body Language, dispels our expectations of the power of speech with studies that span decades. One in particular from UCLA indicates that 93% of our communication is non-verbal. That means that nearly all of what we say is not through our words! It further suggestions that 55% of our communication solely comes from our body language. How you stand--whether with arms crossed or hands of your hips--sends an extremely direct and often accurate tell of how you are feeling.
Amidst the prolific lists of no-no's, Entrepreneur magazine published an expansive list of body language definitions to better explain what you're actually "saying" to your clients and prospects. We were surprised by what it actually means when you clasp your hands behind your back!
The reality is that you will need to speak to your trade show visitors at some point, and what you say does have an impact on how they respond. By employing your newly practiced non-verbals, acknowledge your guests with a smile and a customary greeting. Then, respond to their physical reaction. Their turned body position and lack of eye contact will give you a clear level of their disinterest. If your response is open and friendly, be ready to respond verbally. Asking, "What brings you here today?" or a question related to your services will help break the ice. If you're struggling with something other than "How are you today?", you might check out a list of "15 Perfect Sales Conversation Starters" from Inc.
Other ways to engage or otherwise attract trade show visitors to your booth is with some form of interactivity, such as a giveaway contest, a game or even a demonstration. Promoting and hosting these kinds of events can also set your booth apart from the rest, creating a memorable experience in association with your brand.
3. Educate & Inform: As a representative of your organization, you're a leading expert in what you offer. Practice your elevator speech and readily know your unique selling positions. Your transparency and eloquence will reflect professionalism and competency for you and your organization.
Although you may not want to talk dollars with them at the trade show, be prepared for direct questions about pricing. Hiding the cost can cast an unwanted shadow of suspicion. Trust in business in paramount. Be open with your prospective clients.
Not everyone in attendance is interested in speaking with you. (Shocking, right?) It's not you, but rather the conversation they wish to avoid. A trade show can evoke the same kind of anxiety you may feel about getting caught in a high-pressure car sales pitch. For this reason, it can be helpful to educate your audience with creative displays, signs or rack cards. This allows your shy visitors to peruse your trade show booth at their own pace and with minimal conversing. Their comfort will be something they remember when sifting through the business cards they collected.
4. Capture Prospect Information: By hosting a booth at a trade show, you're creating some valuable public awareness for your organization. However, those who perceive trade shows as a lead generator tend to find the event more rewarding. Have a game plan for capturing prospect information. Perhaps you even set a goal or a challenge for employees or volunteers who will be overseeing the booth.
Swapping business cards is traditional and expected by most trade show attendees, but employing a more creative, memorable method, such as a game or contest, may prove to be more fruitful. Cutting edge technology is undoubtedly fascinating to the masses and is therefore an intriguing draw for your trade show booth. Some examples may be a VR experience, an interactive trivia game, an online survey or simply an electronic form for them to fill out. Another great reason to incorporate technology is to easily export and analyze all the contact information or market research you've collected.
From the display to your dress, there is a lot to consider when preparing for a trade show or expo, but it's all manageable. With a little brainstorming, creativity, you and your team will grow your awareness and connect new people with your outstanding products or services. Preparedness will surely combat the noise and your authenticity will shine, making your trade show experience a sure success.