I wish I was a psychologist: it would help me to understand the strange behaviour of people at trade shows.
There has been more than one occasion, while I’ve been manning an exhibition stand, that a show vistor has walked past my stand several times in the space of a few minutes. The onus is on the exhibitor to open the conversation.
And then, when I’ve opened the conversation, I’ve discovered they’ve come to the show specifically to find out more about my company. So why didn’t they just walk up and start asking questions? Having done exhibitions in more than a dozen countries, I can tell you that this behaviour is consistent across nationalities, age groups, and gender. So what does that prove? That the onus is on you, as the exhibitor, to break the ice. But how?
I wrote the other day about how to operate a trade show stand most effectively, concentrating on how to handle people who are talking to you. Now I’ll give you some tips about getting the conversation started.
Use open questions that people can’t easily walk away from
Although opening a conversation at an exhibition may seem a world away from late night bars and the chat-up lines that are used in them, there is a similarity. You need to appear helpful, engaging, and certainly not over-pushy. You need to start the conversation with an open question. Closed questions are those that can be easily answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, whereas an open question you might ask could be:
How easily are you finding what you need today?
Perhaps you can help the visitor find what they need – even if it isn’t on your stand – and leave a good impression. Perhaps you’ll find out what they’re looking for, and you can provide it. Or you could try:
Good morning, how useful do you think the show is?
Or if the exhibition/conference is a regular affair:
Hello there, did you come last year too? How would you compare it with this year?
You might get some useful feedback on whether you should be there in the first place. You’ll get chance to see what they think they’re not getting, and figure out whether you can provide it.
Get the idea? Compare those non-threatening, open questions with what you commonly experience:
Hello, I’m from company X and we’re launching product Y. Can I demonstrate it for you?
I don’t know about you, but I tend to quickly walk away from those stands – unless there’s no other way to get their information.
So, before exhibiting, think about your opening lines. How good your chat-up lines are will determine the number and quality of the conversations you have.
Paul Halliwell says
Good stuff Matthew – we are at the CIPD conference next month and I’ve been passing your tips around our people…
I’d also add, in relation to both this article and your previous one, that when you are on your stand and talking to people, you must avoid the urge to look over their shoulder in case someone ‘better’ walks past. I’ve been on the receiving end of this and found it so rude I’ve closed the conversation and walked away…
Matthew Goldsbrough says
Great point, Paul. It’s a commonly committed sin at business networking events, too.