This week I had the pleasure of speaking at the largest business exhibition in the North-East, the Newcastle Expo. The topic was a particular favourite of mine, the demise of conversation and its effect on business relationships. I was also asked to write an article for the expo magazine about how to attract visitors to your stand. Sadly not many of the exhibitors seem to have read my article!
It was clear that many of the exhibitors had put a great deal of effort into the look and feel of their stand, but few had put the same effort into themselves and their performance on the day.
Perhaps I’m a clothing snob, but when I see somebody dressed in a pair of ragged trousers and a scruffy un-ironed T-shirt, something immediately crosses my mind. If they pay this little attention to how they represent themselves, how much attention would be paid to me as a client? It just seems to convey the wrong message and turns me off even before we’ve spoken. Designer suits, power dressing and bling go too far in the other direction. Try to hit the middle ground of smart casual as a minimum standard.
Most of the stands comprised of some pop-up banners with a table in front, laid out with lots of free gifts and colourful leaflets. Physically that’s not the best layout for an exhibition stand as often you can’t see the bottom of the pop-up banners, however this layout lends itself to something far more sinister! Exhibitors sitting on chairs behind their desks. First of all if you’re sat on a chair your eye-line is significantly lower than the people walking towards your stand. That makes it difficult to make eye contact. Now I have controversial views about eye contact and I don’t believe that it works in every situation for everybody. Exhibitions are the exception to this theory and here it’s vital to make eye contact with the people walking towards your stand. Sitting down in a chair is a major barrier to achieving this effectively.
Sadly the sitting-down syndrome doesn’t stop there. One of the key points in my presentation was the use of attentiveness to achieve a great human connection. Many of the exhibitors, sat in their chairs behind the desks, were also on their computers, iPads and phones. How on earth do they hope to achieve a connection with potential clients if they are not paying attention to them?
There were a number of stands that I particularly wanted to visit and find out details of their organisation. I approached one of these stands which had a young lady sat on a chair behind a desk talking on her phone. As I approached she glanced up at me and turned her head away continuing her telephone conversation. I stood there looking at some leaflets on her table and still she continued the conversation on her phone. She resisted making eye contact with me and I don’t know about her but I was starting to become uncomfortable. I waited for a couple of minutes but in the end gave up and walked away. For all she knew I was the most lucrative potential new customer she could’ve made on the day.
Body Language Challenges
For those exhibitors who were not cowering behind their desks there were still a few challenges to be overcome. Eye contact clearly helps to engage with a prospect, but that alone is not going to be enough to make them stop at your stand. This is where my favourite topic, body language, comes into its own. Let’s take posture first of all. If you’re standing with slouched shoulders, head pointing towards the ground you certainly don’t look enthusiastic and looking forward to greeting a new potential client. There were also plenty of people with their arms crossed or their hands clasped in front of them. Comfortable it may be but like the table, this is negative body language and is a barrier between you and the potential client. It simply gets in the way.
And then we come to facial expression. A big beaming smile is all it takes to make you look warm and welcoming. Scowls, sneers and looks of derision just don’t do it and as for looking people up and down and then smirking, I’m sorry but that’s not the best of introductions. If you think this is far-fetched, please believe me, I saw them all during the day at the expo.
Instant Selling Mode
For those exhibitors who had made the effort give me a warm welcome and entice me onto their stands there were a number of times where I felt like a rat in a trap. They immediately moved into heavy sales mode and started telling me how wonderful their organisation was, how long they’ve been in business, how fabulous the products were, blah blah blah. As a potential client I want you to show that you’re interested in me and how you could help solve my challenges. Sales mode does not achieve this.
And the Winners Are ….
This may all sound very negative but don’t worry, there were some people who excelled at the exhibition. The incredibly warm welcome from New Results Training and KLJ Social Media restored my faith in exhibitors. No hiding behind tables and fabulous warm open body language. Thank you ladies. It was also my great pleasure to see my good friend Andrew Pearce from Prydale Partners. Okay so Andrew is a good friend of mine and this may seem biased but I did observe him doing this to many other people who passed his stand. Excellent eye contact, a wonderful posture (he is from farming stock) and the splendid handshake. Combine all these with the warmest of smiles put together a wonderfully welcoming package.
The Expo was one of the busiest and most successful exhibitions I have been to for some time but I can’t help wondering how much more successful it would’ve been for many of the exhibitors had they put a little more effort into how they communicate with their potential clients. Bring on the Spring Expo and let’s see how things have progressed.