Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Making an exhibition of yourself - the exhibitor

Further to my blog last week about making the most of your experience as a visitor to an exhibition, I promised you some top tips if you are taking a stand at a busy show.

Give people some space

When I arrived at Excel for the Business StartUp Show I felt like turning around again and going home. Bearing in mind the target audience for the show, people who, in a lot of cases are new to business, I can imagine many who did.

One bright spark among the exhibitors had the great idea of standing by the entrance with a batch of leaflets to entice new arrivals to visit their stand. Not a bad idea on its own, particularly if you haven't got a premium spot where no-one will be able to avoid you.

The trouble was that, once other stand-holders had seen this tactic, they also thought it was a great idea. By the time we arrived we had to run a gauntlet of people handing us leaflets, special offers and even free waffles before we could get into the exhibition. Anyone who has tried to walk through the busy streets of London in evening rush hour and avoid the people giving away free newspapers will understand what it was like.

To avoid the baying hordes of leaflet-thrusters, we took shelter in an empty stand the study the exhibition map and agree where we wanted to go. One over-enthusiastic exhibitor even followed us there to try to force their promotional literature on us. I perhaps had another suggestion for its use at that stage!

The lesson for exhibitors is to show respect to people visiting exhibitions. When they visit exhibitions, people are shopping. If you go to a shopping centre, you don't necessarily want to go into every store. You browse, see what catches your eye and go in to find out more when you are genuinely interested or curious. The same is the case at an exhibition.

Remember, the person who gets the most visitors to their stand isn't necessarily the winner.

Much like a shop's window display, make sure that your stand is attractive and clearly demonstrates what you have to offer. Your team should be approachable and friendly, ready to attend to anyone who wants to find out more. Hunting down passers-by, pursuing them around the exhibition hall until they listen to your pitch, will not win you friends.

Think about how you like to be treated when you shop. That should give you a strong idea of how to act at an exhibition.

No barriers

There is a balance to strike. You do have to make sure that you are 'out-there' at least to some degree, marketing yourself and making yourself approachable.

When I was with Business Referral Exchange, we ran a number of Business-to-Business exhibitions. One company exhibited with us on a number of occasions but rarely got any new business from the events.

There was a very simple reason for this, the person who looked after the stand created barriers between himself and the attendees. He would set up a table which he covered in literature, put a chair behind the table and would sit there, with his arms folded, for the duration of the event. When people walked past his stand, there was no warm smile and greeting, rather one man, sat behind a table full of leaflets, sat down with arms crossed. How likely would you be to approach him?

At the Business StartUp Show, I visited the stand run by a major national courier company. While I stood there waiting to speak to someone, one of the team on the stand was sat at a table, talking on his mobile phone and typing into his laptop. For someone waiting to be seen, this didn't create the right impression with me. Everyone on the stand should be focused on being approachable to potential customers, any other activity should always take place away from your stand.

It's not a place of day-to-day work, it's not somewhere to sit and have a rest. It's an advertisement for your company.

The personal experience

At a successful business exhibition, you will hopefully capture the data of a lot of people who visit your stand. Many exhibitors will run giveaways and prize draws to encourage people to part with their business cards to build a database for email follow-up.

Don't waste the individual connections you have made with people who have visited your stand and engaged in conversation. The temptation is to throw every business-card you collect into one collection and then mass-mail all of them together. After all, that's the most time-efficient way of following up, surely.

One golden rule of any networking, or indeed any sales approach, is to make every person you interact with feel unique. That doesn't mean that you can't mass-mail if people just drop their business card into a competition draw. However, if you have had a conversation with a genuinely interested party, keep their card seperately.

Keep a record of each conversation your team has with visitors to the stand, together with a note of what you have promised to do to follow up. Ideally, the person who had the conversation should also manage the follow up, even if it's just an email to pass them onto someone else. Maintain that personal connection.

Remember, most of the mass emails you send will be deleted without being read.

For an interesting take on making an exhibition a success from one of the exhibitors at the Business Start Up Show, read Fraser Hay's blog on Ecademy here.


  1. Anonymous11:01 am

    The first type of people you described sounded like they were worse than annoying network marketers who do everything they can to get you into their downline. I can't even believe that someone who is a professional put their potential customers through that experience. The behavior they exhibited at this event screams DESPERATE!

  2. Andy, you could have added so much more!

    Totally agree with you about "barriers". My pet hates on these exhibition stands are people who dress badly, who say "can I help you"