I just spent three days covering 450,000 square feet of McCormick Place. Great venue for a trade show (sorry Indy, there is no comparison!) I walked past some 600 exhibitors, and spoke with over 150. It’s amazing how many people spend big money on the booth and then shoot themselves in the foot. While this was an international single industry show, the same lessons apply to the local business or chamber expo as well.
If you are going to display, keep these three rules in mind at all times.
1. Never walk up to someone who walks into your booth and ask, “Do you have any questions?” First, its a closed ended question and closed ended questions are a horrible way to start a conversation. Second, even though they are going to lie to you and say “no,” would they have stopped by your booth if they weren’t curious about something? Of course not. They have questions or you’d be looking at the back of their heads as they talk to the next booth.
2. You do not know how your offering can help me until you know the problems in my life. Unless I missed that “Omniscience 101” class in school, you don’t know what keeps me up at night or what my goals and objectives are for next year or even my goals for being at the show. Learn to ask questions that engage me on why I am spending my valuable time wearing out shoes. “Jeff, welcome. What’s the best thing you’ve seen so far at the show?” is a great opening because you want to know why I thought it was great (second question) so you can start to angle in on why/how your offering might compliment or replace what I think is the coolest thing so far.
3. Learn to watch my non-verbals. Even if I ask a question, that does not mean that I want a 2-10 minute presentation on the core technology and patent process you went through to get this offering to market. Watch my face and hands to see when I am done listening. Shorten your answers, and then ask, “There’s a lot more I could say, what would you like to hear about next?” or “There’s a lot more detail I could go into, but how do you see this fitting into your business?” or “I don’t want to overdo the details, so tell me what is most important to you?”
Remember that trade shows are like cold calling. Be able to capture attention in one sentence by using the core value of your offering, and then lobbing a question to get me talking. The longer you talk, the less I listen.
So, what have been your experiences visiting and/or working trade shows?