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A Quick Guide to Killer Interpersonal Skills for Your Trade Show Booth and Beyond

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Valerie Kasembeg

Regional Director, Client Development


Instead of “selling” at your exhibit booth, elevate your brand and create long-lasting relationships

You’ve got a well-designed booth, loaded with the the best collateral and products. You’ve got a team that understands your organization’s vision, products, or services. You’re at the right conference with the right audiences, according to your well-developed marketing research

Now you have to sell, sell, sell… right?

Easier said than done, you might think. After all, you and your team could be managers or techies — surely great at what you do — but not veterans of the daily front lines of customer engagement. Maybe you’re not at the point where you can staff your booth with a dedicated sales or marketing staff.

Don’t worry. The good news is that you are at a live event, meaning you’re surrounded by likeminded individuals with similar passions and interests. The battle is half-won, and you don’t have to be the Wolf of Wall Street to close deals. All you need are some interpersonal best practices that move casual contacts into long-term relationships.

These best practices can be instructed easily to your other booth warriors. And it won’t even feel like selling.

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Practice makes perfect

While traveling to a conference or setting up a booth for an event, there is always some downtime. This is a great time to review and practice what you want to express to attendees. But knowledge is not enough. Ask yourself: 

  • What are the main bullet points that make your products or services unique? 
  • What problem does your brand solve? And, how can your products or services change someone’s life for the better?

Determine your answers and then practice those responses out loud until it’s automatic.

During that rehearsal, try to convince yourself (out loud) that you’re not just at the event to sell; what you're saying is actually meant to connect with the individual you're talking to. 

As famed retailer Katherine Barchetti once said, “Make a customer, not a sale.” In other words, you want attendees to take a journey of discovery with your brand so they get on board with what your brand stands for and how it can help them — that will get them invested.

At the same time, in these digital days, many attendees come to events not just to buy but have an experience (and then share on social media or blog about it later). You are the storyteller of your brand. So make your in-booth experience engaging — chances are good that if it's worthy, you'll see it online!

That special spiel

If you really want to tighten your communication at the event, you can craft an elevator pitch: a “brief, persuasive speech that you use to spark interest in what your organization does.” It should include these features, drawing from the previous tip: 

  • The goal(s) of your exhibit (that’s for you and only you)
  • What exactly your brand does
  • Your brand’s unique selling proposition
  • A few questions to ignite a conversation (should be ones that are answered with a “yes” or “no” such as, “Does my product/service solve an issue you have?”)

Put it all together for a 20-30 second speech and, of course, feel free to share it with other stakeholders at the booth. Don’t think of the elevator pitch as cheesy selling. As sales expert and author Daniel Pink expressed, a pitch is “an opportunity to engage, collaborate, and participate in the development of your idea.”

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Connect on the spot

You only get one chance to make a good first impression, as they say. According to Forbes, individuals make incredibly accurate snap judgments in a tenth of a second! Yes, being appropriately dressed and rested for the booth is imperative.

Yet, according to the research sited in Forbes, your intent is a key ingredient to make a first good impression. Before the event, ask yourself what kind of people you want to meet and what kind of interactions you're hoping for. Maybe even visualize some scenarios.

The right intentions will fuel and permeate your presence once you’re at the booth. As legendary motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said: “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”

Be aware of body language

Positive body language is certainly part of a first good impression and it continues as you interact with attendees. How's your posture? Are you standing upright and alert? (No slouching!) Are you smiling? And remember to maintain thoughtful eye contact or you’ll lose a person’s interest (and their potential business) quickly!

Even such subtleties as leaning slightly forward (conveys interest) or slow nodding (conveys agreement) can go a long way in forging interpersonal bonds. One expert suggested having open arms, as it expresses openness and therefore builds trust.

And don’t overlook that greatest of first impressions: the handshake. On average, according to scientific research, people will shake hands 15,000 times in a lifetime. The same science states that a firm, dry, and measured handshake is gold — while a soft handshake indicates insecurity and a grip that's quick-to-let-go suggests arrogance.

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Name names

Bonding with a potential client or customer is wonderful when it works. But all too often we forget a person’s name and then meet them at the same event later on... awkward! Plus, it's not great for business. According to Psychology Today, here are some tips for remembering names:

  • Repeat names during and after a conversation
  • Spell their names out after you meet an individual
  • Associate their names (examples: “John from Johannesburg” or “Harry that looks like Harry Potter”)

Just as important at this stage of the proverbial game, try to get some information on an individual such as a business card, LinkedIn profile, website information, etc. Try to glance at this information before the day is over to log in your memory. 

With these tips in mind, anyone can get results at an exhibit booth. Especially when your non-sales people at the booth have the mindset that they’re not selling, but solving important problems and sharing interesting information with compatible colleagues.

Maybe it is selling, in the end, but it sure can become a lot of fun.

Want more strategies to level up your trade show game? Download our latest exhibitor insights paper.

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