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.
Networking events are useful for growing your business, so long as you do not just use them as an opportunity to sell too aggressively.
Effective networking is primarily about meeting new people and then deciding if they are worth contacting later. Some might be potential clients or suppliers; others merely people with whom you found some empathy and a common sense of purpose.
Networking events can be intimidating for even the most extrovert characters, but a simple way of introducing yourself into a group of strangers is via the simple request, "may I join you?".
You should first ask where a person is from and what business they are in. Next, you might try to elicit a customer story to add some colour to the conversation. From there, you should use your instincts as to whether the conversation is worth pursuing.
If you do sense that there is some common ground, you can ask them why they were at the event, hoping to uncover any potential sales needs that you might be able to address. To show that you have immediate value, you should respond with factual information such as a useful website, or even recommend someone from your own network who you feel might be useful to contact.
The key is to establish quickly that you are interesting, which in the early stages of a business relationship is a combination of practical information and a good personal network. If you are able to establish this successfully, then they should be happy to receive an e-mail to set up a meeting, which is when the sales process can be started in a structured way.
While attending networking events should always have an underlying sales purpose, the wider objective is about increasing your circle of contacts. The people you connect with successfully can then reciprocate with their own valuable information and interesting people.
Our lives are dominated by mobile phones and e-mails, impersonal tools that can often take the spirit out of an enterprise. Networking events are useful for reminding us that business should always contain some element of human contact.
Originally published in The Mail on Sunday. 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.
Events can be a great addition to a marketing activity plan. Whether it’s a tradeshow, exhibition or an event you’ve put together yourself – getting access to real potential buyers in the flesh can be highly effective.
As a fairly traditional technique, you’d think that most people had this one nailed in terms of dos and don’ts – but there are still many pitfalls to avoid if you’re going to make an event worth its while for your small business.
Even hosting a modest stand at an exhibition is a lot of effort. It’s important to remember that an event is a perishable item in terms of a marketing technique. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You have one chance to get your money’s worth.
If I were to pick out just three mistakes that many small firms make, they would be:
Shy and retiring members of your team are not the best people to staff your stand. You need the person you’re putting out there to be gregarious and full of energy. By all means have the more reserved expert at the event to answer questions – but the person out there needs to be a showman.
Standing meekly waiting for people to approach you and ask you to sell to them just isn’t going to cut it. You’ll need to say hello to every passer-by and engage them in conversation. You’re likely to need to do this every few minutes for six hours or more. That takes energy. So think carefully before you stick the graduate trainee on the stand. We all know it’s a grind of a job for the day – but unless they have the showmanship and the stamina, they’ll be little more than a wallflower.
Every events specialist will tell you that you need to follow up after an event. This is absolutely true. Simply adding event attendees to your email marketing list does not count as follow-up (in fact, this kind of assumed permission could be detrimental). It’s a lazy way of following up, and it is unlikely to get the response you were hoping for… which was a number of conversations that could lead to a sale, right?
Keep in mind that event attendees will now be followed up by every exhibitor. So, you’ll need to stand out. The ideal approach would be to personalise as much as possible. If you chatted to someone in person, send them an email that reflects the conversation. If you know you didn’t meet someone, reflect that. And, remember that other exhibitors are worth following up too – if they’re not your competition, they could be your next customer.
You could even do something as radical as picking up the phone or sending a letter – you know that everyone else is going to be emailing. You can also get some extra mileage from the event by penning a follow-up blog. If the event has a Twitter hashtag and you use it, your article is often passed on by the event organiser.
Follow-up is essential. But lead-up is also a fantastic opportunity. So many small businesses simply turn up on the day. The smart business makes the most of attending an event by using it as a conversation piece in the weeks leading up to the day itself. Some simple things you can do in the run-up to an event include:
The really smart businesses will pre-book sales meetings. Your stand is important. But, a quiet corner and a coffee budget can be even more powerful. Your sales people should be finding out which of your customers are attending and booking a coffee or a lunch with them (this keeps them off other people’s stands and gives you time to catch up).
With a laptop and an internet connection, you could also book in a series of private demos. Check your current hot prospects – are any of them attending? If so, can you pre-book a time slot to buy them a coffee?
Exhibitions may seem like an unnecessary activity now that interaction with clients and business contacts are managed through social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn. However, face-to-face networking and raising your profile through exhibiting can have an impact and help you grow your business. Often businesses never meet their clients in person. Investing time interacting with the local business community can build long-term relationships and open doors that may not be achievable without attending such an event.
Transactional marketing is no longer enough, and organisations in all sorts of industries are geared more towards relationship marketing. Companies are looking for added value — not just a one-off transaction. A business-to-business exhibition is the catalyst for building and maintaining long-term relationships with clients.
Of course exhibiting at any old exhibition is not going to be something companies will do lightly in today’s economic climate. Businesses must be sure to attend events that will achieve their objectives and create a platform for new opportunities, not least to justify spending their marketing budget.
To ensure money is well invested and returns are gained, an organisation should research the show to understand if the objectives match that of their own goals. Being smart and researching extensively, you can make an informed decision to establish if the show is right for you. Some key things to ask yourself are:
Don’t just sit back and wait until the show to promote your business. Get on board with the exhibition organisers in advance and really maximise your experience at the show. This can be achieved through partnering and sponsoring an event or even just getting in contact with the marketing department and working with them on any promotional strategies. Be proactive! If you are investing money to attend then why not optimise the opportunity and take on promoting the event through your own organisation’s contacts, target audience and marketing activity? The more people you see on the day, the more contacts you make!
To get the most out of exhibiting at a business-to-business exhibition you need to set out some key objectives and prepare! Get out there, get talking and build a rapport with other business people. Make your exhibit stand out and really show off your attributes — innovative ideas and interactive features are particularly attractive to visitors.
After the event has finished, it does not stop there. Relationship-building is a long term investment so make sure you record contact details so you can stay connected and follow up with conversations you have had on the day.