In these times of web 2.0 and online social networking, it’s all too easy to forget the value of meeting face-to-face.
Trade shows, conferences and seminars are all great networking opportunities — they can help you raise your profile, meet new customers, connect with suppliers and more.
Networking events are sometimes viewed as a bit of a skive, but as anyone who attends them knows, they can be hard work — and, used well, this time out of the office can be invaluable to your business.
Online tools have made face-to-face networking less stressful and more time efficient, and a little online research can bypass that awkward first stage of a meeting.
This research can include checking the website to see who’s exhibiting and taking time to read any pre-event emails and literature to devise a plan of attack.
You may have the chance to catch up with existing suppliers or meet new ones. Contacting them to arrange a time to talk can help you get the most out of your visit — alternatively, arrange a post-event follow-up if you need more time.
Try to find out who else will be attending the event. Perhaps there’s a prospect you’ve been trying to contact or an ex-colleague you’d like to share industry info with.
Here are a few ways you can find this information.
Though there’s no longer a dedicated application for events, there are still ways to spot who might be attending. Check status updates to see if anyone has mentioned the event. Update your own status and invite your connections to respond.
Many large events now have a dedicated LinkedIn group, where you can find people who share your interest. Identify group members who are existing connections, read the latest posts, start a discussion about meeting up (don’t make it too much of a sales pitch) or send individual messages to people.
Many event organisers use Eventbrite (embedded in their own website) as a registration tool and to take payment. You can also use it to search for events in your industry or those happening locally.
Look for a list of those who have registered, search for them on LinkedIn and make contact before the event.
As well as following event organisers on Twitter who may be tweeting in the run up to an event, many events have a hashtag you can follow to find out what exhibitors are up to and who else is planning to visit.
Again, this gives you the opportunity to check out profiles and connect before the event. Use the event hashtag to tweet that you’ll be attending, and ask if anyone wants to meet up. It’s that easy!
Use tools such as Foursquare or Facebook to check in to the event, so exhibitors and other delegates can find you. Tweet to say you’ve just enjoyed a particular presentation, or that you‘re about to take a coffee break and you’re looking forward to chatting to other delegates.
So, you did your preparation, made some valuable contacts and had a great time — remember to carry on networking and follow up everyone you met, as well as those you may have missed. Explore the event hashtag stream and check out the LinkedIn group. A quick “great to meet you/see you again” or “sorry I missed you” note will keep the door open for future conversation.
If you’ve ever exhibited at a show you will know they are a fantastic way of connecting face-to-face with a huge and highly targeted audience. You will also know that it can be a big investment and that after the event huge quantities of material are simply thrown away and end up in landfill.
But it is possible for exhibitions to be both economical and eco-friendly. All it requires is a little planning.
If you exhibit at least once a year, reusable stand components are a prudent investment. With reusable modular or bespoke components, specifically designed to fit together in a number of ways, you can adapt and change your stand for each event without having to re-order an entirely new stand each time.
This cuts down on the amount you throw away at the end of each exhibition, making your activities more eco-friendly. On the financial side, reusable components mean you can invest your marketing budget safe in the knowledge that with a few tweaks, a different layout, and new graphics you can have a completely fresh stand for very little cost.
If you think of your stand as a series of individual modular components, it is easier to design something that can be adapted to each exhibition space. With careful design planning, components can slot together in myriad ways allowing you to keep the overall look and feel of your stand while still achieving something quite spectacular.
As well as cutting down on cost and wastage, planning your stand builds in this way also helps reduce petrol usage and delivery costs. With one stand in the van you can take fewer trips back to your storage location.
Instead of handing out a brochure to every visitor, invite them to scan a QR code that links to an online PDF, or use a tablet or smartphone to send a link straight to their inboxes. Quatreus has developed qbit, a customisable interactive lead capture system that makes it easy to gather contact details and other key information from visitors to your stand.
As well as being more eco-friendly and cutting costs, digital gadgetry at your stand can help draw in a good crowd.
Transport (including fuel) is one of the highest costs for exhibitors. Bulky stands in particular, are often more complicated when it comes to both logistics and set up, and therefore they can increase transport costs considerably every time they are used.
The benefit of modern modular frames is that many of them can be flat-packed, taking up a lot less space for delivery and for storage.
If you can also store your stands at a central location then they can be used by all branches of your organisation — saving on space, fuel and duplication of components. So again, eco-friendly also means wallet friendly.
Some materials are much more environmentally friendly than others. For example, choose low energy items, ones made from recycled and/or recyclable material, locally produced items, ones without toxic finishes and so on.
Many stands use lighting to create eye-catching effects but this can use a lot of electricity, instead create a similar effect by using a combination of low-energy lighting and light-dispersing fabrics — this can look stunning and save you money.
Ask your suppliers if they have a recycling policy and what happens to their waste; ask if they use eco-friendly materials and if not, can they source them for you?; do they have a carbon offset scheme?; what measures have they taken to reduce their CO2 footprint? If your preferred supplier is not as green as you’d like, tell them that you’d like to stay with them, but you need them to improve. Also, ask the event organisers what they are doing to green their event.
If you want to be an environmentally conscientious company and boost your green credentials, then your exhibition stands are a great place to start. A good design and build supplier can work with you to consider things like materials, logistics and design to ensure the most eco-friendly stand possible, without compromising on impact. And as a bonus, in the events business, eco-friendly can mean cost-efficiency too!
Richard Edwards is director of Quatreus.
During a discussion with a group of networking contacts recently, I realised that we all knew at least one person who was ruining their chances of getting referrals just by trying to be seen as a “jack of all trades” while networking.
It is easy to become unnerved by the slowdown in business but staying true to your business and its core offering is crucial if you want to be seen as a credible supplier and stand a chance of being recommended by others. And networking is still one of the most effective ways to raise your profile and spread positive word of mouth about what you do.
Here are some of the most common ways in which you could be ruining your chances of getting valuable referrals when you are networking:
This will lead to no referrals because you are not specialising in one area, which will eventually lead to confusion in professional stance and ultimately it will ruin your credibility with others. After all, how can you expect to be seen as a market leader or credible expert when you are presenting yourself as a “jack of all trades”? The result is no credibility and no referrals.
I shouldn't have to mention this one, but sadly it happened to one of my contacts in a networking group. Then what happened? That's right, he told everybody! You should always present a professional image when you need people to talk about how good your products and services are. By slipping up, the result was an instant loss of future referrals.
I always remind people of the following statement: the people in a networking group are your route to market, not your target market. This means that until they are properly qualified they do not require the hard sell. If you do launch into sales pitches, you’ll soon find people avoiding you.
This has two effects on the person you are seeking help from. Firstly, the initial impact on the person that tried to help is "well I won't bother wasting my time like that again!" But it also might suggest you are engaging in a form of oneupmanship — you don’t need to ask for help and you are only going to ignore the advice given. This will also demonstrate that advice was not needed in the first place, but that you thought you knew better! This doesn’t create a great overall impression does it?
I'm not talking about the casual introduction — "oh, you should really talk to xyz, he might know people that need your help" — but proper referrals, a qualified introduction to someone that needs your help (and is willing to pay for it). Result? People get fed up with your taking attitude and don't bother with you.
Until people really understand what it is you do, how can you expect them to give you referrals? Let alone trust you enough to refer you to their biggest client, where their reputation and credibility is on the line? So make sure that you come across as the leading expert in your field — and add some confidence in there too!
The first buds of spring also herald the beginning of the conference and exhibition season, with many companies wasting a small fortune trying to promote themselves to uninterested visitors.
It is not cheap to exhibit at a trade show. The stand space itself is expensive, and then there is the cost of building the stand, developing new marketing materials, plus the considerable staff time involved in just being there.
I often find myself speaking at exhibitions when the organiser's business model is to sell stand space on the premise that thousands of visitors will be attracted to the event by the top quality keynotes and free workshops on offer.
When I visit the stands, I receive many complaints about the aggressive sales techniques of people selling exhibition space. They complain that these commission-only salespeople provide inflated estimates of the likely visitor numbers and can be very persistent and unpleasant.
My advice to any potential exhibitor is to leave any decision to the last minute, and always to offer to pay only a small percentage of what is quoted on the organiser's rate card.
But if you do decide to exhibit, it is always good practice to make the sales messages on your stand as obvious as possible. An interesting exercise is to walk down an aisle at a trade show, trying to guess what the exhibitor does just by looking at their stand.
It is clear that many of the stands have been designed by amateurs trying to do their own marketing. Alternatively, they have engaged a marketing agency whose brilliant idea is to deliberately make the messages of the company as opaque as possible. They argue that this will generate curiosity in the casual observer, encouraging them into visiting your stand to find out more. Sadly, this rarely happens in the real world.
People who attend trade shows are looking for someone to solve their problems or meet their needs. If you clearly state those problems and needs and then explain how you can address them, you stand a good chance of attracting a potential customer.
There is also one last hurdle before your company achieves an acceptable return on its investment in stand space, and that is the hapless people on the stand itself. Working at trade shows is a dismal and tiring process. The people you do want to attract will studiously avoid eye contact, while those who deliberately engage your attention are often time-wasters, competitors or students, often with poor social skills.
In my experience, very little business is gained from people causally wandering onto your stand; the key to success at a trade show is in the pre-event preparation. Experienced trade show exhibitors train their staff in good stand technique and do most of their work in advance of the event, contacting potential customers to make specific appointments.
Any spare time at the show is used in scanning the other stands, eyeing up the competition and looking for new leads.
If you do spot a potential customer working on another trade show stand, it is poor etiquette to try and engage them in a sales conversation there and then. They want to sell to other people, not listen to your sales pitch. You should just ask for the name of the key decision-maker for contact after the event, and take as much of their sales literature as possible for your pre-meeting research.
You can also drop into the keynotes, seminars and workshops and learn something new. If they have one on how to exhibit successfully at a trade show, then that would definitely be worth a visit.
Copyright ©Mike Southon 2012. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.
Do you feel nervous before presenting? Do the nerves affect you performance? Are they stopping you from progressing in your career or business? Would you like to feel more confident about speaking in public?
The first step is to ask yourself: are nerves always a bad thing?
Do you think the professionals get nervous? You bet they do. And those nerves are good— they drive us to prepare well, they drive us to focus and they give us energy on the day. If you’re too relaxed, you probably aren’t giving it the focus it needs. However there is a problem if these nerves become limiting.
So here are nine ways to overcome nerves and ensure you give a great performance:
1. Remember nerves are normal. If you feel nervous then you are human. Revel in it and read on to find out what to do with them.
2. How do the nerves manifest themselves for you? For most people it is normally a fear of forgetting what they are going to say, or falling over, or people laughing at them. These thoughts make it worse and it is a downward spiral.
Stop these thoughts and instead think: “how much value can I give to my audience?”, “how can I make it fun for my audience?” or ask “how could this be fun for me?”.
3. You are there to give the audience a gift, a gift of your experience, knowledge and expertise.
4. If you get the opportunity beforehand, then chat to the audience. It will feel more like you are talking to a group of friends as opposed to strangers.
5. The best antidote to nerves is to do it regularly. The more you do it, the more comfortable you will become with it, so practice, practice, practice.
6. Remember that they want you to succeed. No-one in the audience is thinking “I hope this guy is rubbish, I hope I don’t enjoy it!”.
7. Deliver the talk in front of a friendly audience to start with and get comfortable with it. Then when you go to a new audience you will feel better about it. Don’t test a new speech on a new audience.
8. Before you start to present take a moment to breathe deeply and slowly. Try breathing in for three, holding for nine and then out for six. Repeat four or five times.
9. Instead of asking yourself, “how am I going to remember all of this?” or “what if they hate it?” ask better questions like: “how can I make this fun for the audience?” or “which bit of my presentation are they going to enjoy the most?”.
By following these simple tips you can easily reduce your nerves so they become an asset not a hindrance.
Alan Donegan is from Toastmasters International.
We’ve all sat through them — those presentations where the speaker just doesn’t connect with the audience, leaving you feeling detached from the experience and that your time has been wasted.
Here are my seven top tips to ensure you build great rapport with your audiences — whatever the occasion.
1. Use a personal story or anecdote to connect with your audience. It shows that you are ready to be open, vulnerable and personable, and it will make them more receptive. The real power comes from your emotions — which will go straight to their heart and they will remember your story long after the words have gone.
2. Use humour to lower the tension. Experiment with what makes your audiences laugh and release any tension. Be ready to surprise them. Dare to mock what happened to you — self-deprecating humour is a great way to make you appear more human.
3. Create images and movies in the heads of your audience. Everyone will see something slightly different in their mind's eye, adding their own experience to it and making it theirs. Tell them enough, but leave room for them to add their own part. It then becomes "their" story and point of view.
4. Remember to pause. At the beginning of your talk, and before an important passage. A pause will allow you to hold them in your hand, reuniting them in the tension of waiting. Pause after any important points you make as it lets them fully absorb information.
5. Be in the moment, in the present. Let go of any worries about yourself from the interaction. This might be easy to say, but how to do it? Plan your talk, practise and use personal stories and humour to let go of any tension. Remember to smile — and breathe!
6. Use variety in your voice to enhance your message. For instance, quickening the pace to add tension, emphasising key words to bring out important points (but don’t overdo it!) and lowering your volume to add suspense. The most important things are to connect with your own emotions and to speak about what you care about. It will show.
7. Believe! Give yourself confidence by believing that the audience is your friend, and will give you energy. Believe profoundly in what you are talking about and this will take care of most of your vocal variety and gestures — and ensure that you project authenticity.
Each audience, each room, each time is different. The same speech should be adapted to every occasion, and will be received differently. Join a speaking club such as Toastmasters International to give yourself the opportunity to practise in a supportive environment. Experiment. Enjoy. Engage.
Julie Kertesz is a member of Toastmasters International and winner of the Silver Comedy Best Newcomer 2012.