Advice for working the booth at Trade Shows
This week, IBM InterConnect conference is going on in Las Vegas, Nevada.
One time in Las Vegas, I took the gondola ride at the Venetian Hotel. These are not boats with a motor on a chain or track, a but actually steered and propelled independently by the gondolier. At various points on our path, our gondolier would serenade our group with beautiful Italian songs.
As the ride was ending, I asked our gondolier how long their training program was to do this job. He told me "six weeks". I said "Wow, I would love to learn how to sing Italian songs like that in six weeks". He corrected me, "No, silly, they only hire experienced singers, and teach them six weeks to manage the gondola by turning the oar in the water."
(FCC Disclosure: I work for IBM. I have no financial interest in the Venetian Hotel, CBS Studios, or the producers of any television shows mentioned in this post. David Spark has provided me a complimentary copy of his book. This blog post can be considered an "unpaid celebrity endorsement" for the book reviewed below.)
InterConnect 2017 includes "Concourse", a trade show floor with people showing off the latest technologies. In the past 25 years, I have attended many conferences, and on occasion I have worked "booth duty". I am not in Las Vegas this week, so this post is advice to those that are.
One time, when the coordinators for an upcoming conference announced at an all-hands meeting they were looking for "a number of knowledgeable and outgoing volunteers" to work the IBM booth, one of the employees in the audience asked "How many of each?" While this might have meant to draw laughs, it underscored a real problem.
In many IT and engineering fields, the terms "knowledgeable" and "outgoing" are seen as mutually exclusive. People are either one or the other. A study titled [Personality types in software engineering], by Luiz Fernando Capretz of The University of Western Ontario, analyzed Myers-Briggs Type Indicator of personality and found the majority of engineers were "Introverts".
This line of thinking is further reinforced by the various characters on the television shows like "The Big Bang Theory". If you are familiar with the show, you have Sheldon and Amy are the most knowledgeable, but also the most socially awkward, and then you have Penny and Howard, less knowledgeable but at the more outgoing end of the spectrum.
I understand that for many engineers, working a booth at a trade show is far outside their "comfort zone". But what do you think is more likely, that you can train an engineer to work a booth in six weeks, be more outgoing, hold the right conversations, tell the right stories -- or -- train a professional model, a young, good looking man or woman, who is already outgoing and friendly, to answer technical engineering questions about your products and services?
I have been attending conferences for over 25 years, and occasionally have worked a booth or two. I started out as an engineer, but went through extensive training for public speaking, talking to the media and press, and moderating Q&A Expert panels.
Sadly, most people who work the booth get little to no training at all. You might be told your scheduled hours, how to scan bar codes on badges, and where the brochures and swag are stored. Then, you get your official "shirt" and told to wear it with a certain color pants, so that everyone looks like part of the team.
Fortunately, fellow blogger David Spark, of Spark Media Solutions, has written a book titled "Three feet from Seven Figures" with loads of advice on how to work a booth with one-on-one engagement techniques to qualify more leads at trade shows.
The title of his book warrants a bit of explanation. When you are working a booth, potential buyers and influencers are walking by, often just three feet away from you, and these could represent million-dollar opportunities.
Too often, the folks working a booth take a passive approach. They look down at their phones, chat with their colleagues, and basically wait for complete strangers to ask them a question or request a demo. This non-verbal communication can really be a turn-off. David explains this in all-too-familiar detail and how to be more actively engaged.
David shows how to break the ice and build rapport with each attendee, how to qualify them as legitimate leads, and how to handle each type of situation.
For qualified leads, you need to maximize the opportunity. If you imagine how much a company spends to send its employees to work the booth, plus the cost of the booth itself, and divide it by the limited number of hours that the trade show floor is open, you quickly realize that each hour is precious.
Your time is valuable, and certainly their time is valuable also. Let's not spend too much time on a single lead, but rather capture the information, end the conversation, and move on.
If you are working a booth at IBM InterConnect, or plan to work a booth at an event later this year, I highly recommend getting this book! It is available in a variety of hard copy and online formats at [Thr