Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Making an exhibition of yourself - the visitor

From 'Grow your own Business' to 'The Franchise Show'; from 'Ideal Business Show' to 'E Commerce 08', there are a wealth of business exhibitions to choose from. I recently attended the Business StartUp Show in London and its success was clear to see. The exhibition hall was buzzing all day, some of the bigger stands had swarms of people around them and queues for the business seminars snaked around the hall.

Among all of the activity there were some wonderful examples of how to, and how not to, network at an exhibition.

Events like this are, naturally, great ground for networking. Whether you are an exhibitor or a visitor, it's an opportunity to grasp with both hands.

In the first of two articles, here are some of my top tips for networking as a visitor to a business exhibition, based on what I observed on the day:

Know what you want to achieve from the day.

With the wealth of stands to visit and seminars to attend, there is only so much you can do. If your aim is to meet a number of new people, or forge contacts with particular companies, you will not best spend your time sitting in seminars.

With the number of seminars available (I think there were six stages at the Business StartUp show, all running sessions throughout the two days), it would be all too easy to jump from speaker to speaker and not actually make new contacts. Select the seminars you most want to attend before the event and make sure you get to the relevant seminar room in plenty of time, many people missed out because the rooms were full.

At Business StartUp, I decided that I wanted to connect with decision makers at national companies. I was looking to talk to businesses with national sales-forces who might be interested in partnering with us on Word of Mouse. That enabled me to focus on which exhibitors I wanted to approach and use my time as efficiently as possible. I only attended one seminar, and that was someone from my network whom I wanted to see speak.

Remember why other people are there.

If you want to connect with other people at an exhibition, be aware of why they are there and respect that.

In my case, I wanted to forge a connection with standholders to potentially do business with them. They, however, were looking to sell their services to attendees at the exhibition. I am sure that they wouldn't have appreciated me hogging their time when other people, potential buyers, were waiting around.

Having seen where the key exhibitors I wanted to speak to were based, I made sure that I only approached them when the stand wasn't too busy. I then asked to speak to a senior manager on the stand. Not only are they more likely to be the person you want to speak to, they also tend to stand back to ensure that everything is going well on the stand, rather than being the first person to speak to visitors.

On introducing myself to the senior manager, I reassured them that I wouldn't take up their time there, explained why I wanted to speak to them and asked for a card so that I could follow up after the exhibition. If they then wanted to speak some more, that was fine, but I remained aware of how busy their stand was and the time I was taking up.

Besides, I'd rather have the conversation with them after the event, one-to-one, when I have their undivided attention, than in a bustling exhibition hall with ever-changing activity on their stand. Wouldn't you?

Don't have lunch, or a cup of coffee on your own

If you're an active networker, you're probably struggling to fit all of the one-to-one meetings you promise people into your diary. Use business exhibitions to kill two birds with one stone and find out who else is going.

Tap into your network and ask who is attending the exhibition. Look through the list of exhibitors and see if there is anyone there whom you are due to meet.

No-one wants to stay on their feet all day at an exhibition. You need a break every now and then. Pre-arrange a couple of meetings for those breaks and meet fellow networkers for a coffee or a spot of lunch.

In the next article I'll look at how to approach exhibitions when you take a stand there.

1 comment:

  1. Niki Duffy8:09 am

    Thanks Andy,
    Great post. Business exhibitions can be overwhelming, and having a plan as you suggest is a great way to get the most out of the day.

    Happy Networking!