Exhibitions are a great way to network, raise your profile and spark business growth. However, in order to make the most of them you have to plan a hundred things well in advance and get everything right on the day, particularly things like purposeful promotional literature, the perfect pop up stand and of course, the all-important interaction. Approaching strangers and attracting them to your stand is one thing but engaging in conversation can be a little more intimidating. Here are some steps to take if you get stuck in a conversation rut:
The saying goes if you smile at someone, they might smile back and chances are if they smile back at an exhibition they will wander over to investigate further. Sometimes a distant smile is the only chance you will have to establish a connection with a prospective client. Be sure to smile like you mean it; think happy, be happy and that way you will look happy. People decide in an instant whether a smile is genuine (using the mouth, the eyes and the whole face) or whether it is plastered on for effect. Yes, you may have been stood smiling at hundreds of people for hours and hours but to that one person it’s the first time you’ve smiled all day so you need to mean it. Use your facial expressions to engage with people and invite them over to your stand.
Once you have enchanted someone with your enthusiastic smile and they have made their way over to you make sure you greet them and show you appreciate their taking the time to come and talk to you. As you see them approach flash them another little smile then accompany that smile with a “Hi” and a little wave. This should be a simple wave consisting of a front-facing palm and a little wriggle of the wrist, not an overly dramatic pantomime wave – that would be too much, causing you to come across as desperate and scaring them away before they get anywhere near you or your stand.
Introductions open up a world of possibility. This is the first real interaction you will have with potential clients and others in your industry so make sure you are approachable and professional. If you are a self-proclaimed, bona fide “hugger” try to curb the urge as an exhibition is not the time or the place. Instead opt for a strong and confident hand shake which will establish a connection without appearing unprofessional or invading people’s personal space. If you feel the situation doesn’t require such a gesture then simply stand adjacent to the other person (or at the front of a group) and keep your body language relaxed and approachable; that means no crossed arms, scowling faces or impatient toe-tapping. Make sure you introduce yourself first thing or early on and when you do, remember to ask for their name before opening the conversation. Once you have your guest’s name, use it! By using their name you will grab and keep their attention, establishing a personal connection and making the listener feel more at ease and thus more likely to stay and listen to you. So it would go something like this:
You: “Hi there, I’m Joe Bloggs from the Unnamed Company – and you are…?”
Them: “Hi, I’m Jane Bloggs”
You: “Nice to meet you Jane. How are you enjoying the exhibition so far?”
At any exhibition the conversation is the most important part of any interaction because it is your chance to personally address potential clients and associates, raising awareness of your brand. Talking to an industry peer can be awkward but shared knowledge and business interests can salvage conversations and overcome pregnant pauses. However, talking to a potential client you have never met before can sometimes be quite daunting and difficult. If you do struggle to start up conversation past the initial introductions then use an ice breaker – for example, “tell me why you’re here today” – to show you take an interest in the person you are talking to. Once you are in the midst of a conversation, keep it going by finding common ground. Make an effort to show whoever you are talking to that you see them as a person rather than a sale. One way to do this is to make them feel like you share a bond; the bond can be a mutual acquaintance, shared support for a particular charity or even passing each other at the coffee shop that morning – anything that identifies a shared interest and builds a connection. Tip: Be careful not to make assumptions when looking for clues (insignia, lapel pins, etc.) and avoid controversial topics like politics, religion, personal relationships or family issues.
Once you have the conversation flowing, both you and your stand’s guest will feel more at ease and better able to ask or answer any questions. Just follow these easy conversation steps and look forward to exhibition success.