Exhibition challenge: What to do and not do | engaging with people

One of my favourite people watching activities, is seeing how exhibitors engage with customers. It is a substantial commitment for a company, financially, time wise and for the marketing team. There are companies that do it really well; engaging with existing companies even before an exhibition, to being welcoming and engaging when they appear at the stand – and the follow up communications afterwards.

I have been at exhibitions where I’ve virtually been mugged for my contact details, or business card.

I have been at exhibitions (small and large) where I’ve virtually been mugged for my contact details, or business card. I then receive one email from them. Then that’s it. I hear nothing more. At others, I’m invited to enter a prize draw, and I know that my contact details are going onto their database. That’s fine. That’s the deal, and occasionally I receive emails from the company. I also engaged with two fantastic companies who were passionate about their work and wanted to share their services and experience with me. One was a brilliant mobile cinema; they had fitted out a truck with a small screen, vintage seating (he was very proud about the original ashtrays!) It was great and his excitement was contagious. Another company arranges pontoons for different events; his stand had lots of photos and not only did he explain some of the events he’d organised pontoons for, he discussed how his services might enhance an event I was involved in. Great!

With a wide smile I tried to engage her in conversation and to say we’d been talking and I wanted to say hello “Grunt”.

But I’m always surprised by companies that invest in exhibitions and don’t make the most of the opportunity. The most surprising companies are those that don’t even show up for the event, even though they’ve paid a lot of money for the stand. That’s quite costly.. But there are also companies that aren’t prepared: several companies invited me to visit their stand at a recent exhibition. One of whom is a local business to mine. I arrived and the employee grunted at me. With a wide smile I tried to engage her in conversation and to say we’d been talking and I wanted to say hello “Grunt”. Do let xxxx know I said hello. “Ugh. She’s over there”.  Okay! Good luck with the show. Another stand had two people, both on their mobile phones. I was  one of a number of potential customers, and we walked by with neither person looking up from their phones. Another chap looked away when I went near his stand: the equivalent of “Ah a customer!” and scuttling under a stone! Exhibitions are exhausting for exhibitors and I admire anyone that gets it right and has the energy to speak to everyone with a smile and engage with them.

Not everyone at an exhibition is wanting to buy; they might be fact finding what is out there in the market; seeing what competitors are up to, or arranging to meet a specific person. However if you are exhibiting, you’ve got to be ready to speak to anyone! And so choose and train your team so they can do this and have the guts to do it! Exhibitions are one aspect of client engagement. We engage with colleagues, friends and customers through emails, the phone, face to face. I wonder how effective you or your colleagues are at engaging with customers: are you the equivalent of the grunting employee who really can’t be bothered; the person on his mobile phone or the chap that was so enthused by his mobile cinema that he wanted to tell me all about it?

About the author

Susan Heaton Wright is a former opera singer who works with successful individuals and teams to make an impact with their voices and physical presence. Using her experience in using the voice and performing on stage, she works with people to improve their performances in a range of business situations; from meeting skills and on the telephone, to public speaking, presentations and appearing on the media.

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