Network. Really Network. Network Like a Superhero.
Top Tips for Maximizing Your Trade Show Presence — Part 3 of 10
Go to everything you possibly can. Go to lunches sponsored inside the show halls to meet the day-pass folks. If you’re eligible, make arrangements to be at events for the press. Show organizers sometimes have private lunches for their major clients. (I know I’m not considered a “major client”, but I always ask about this. Even if it’s just to get your CEO in the door.) Go to all the media events you can get yourself invited to. If you have a PR company on retainer, or even just a PR specialist, their job should be to get you invited to EVERYTHING.
Be memorable. Have a backstory that is interesting, about you as a person, about the company, your CEO. Anything that will make you more interesting than the next person shoving a card in their hand. Be sure to invite them back to your booth to meet with X (whomever would be the right person at the show to speak to this particular journalist, analyst, decision maker, technical lead, etc.) and try to set a time. Get local numbers for everyone you can so you can invite them out to other events as well. You would be surprised at the number of events going on around large international shows in particular.
Trade shows are run by conference organizations and they charge for everything they possibly can, even special events. Many publishing companies and consultancies that write about the industry may not be associated with the conference but will have off-site programs scheduled during the days the conference is running. You may have to dig a little more to find and get invited to these events, but they are well worth attending.
Networking comes easy to some folks, but for most people, it’s one of the most frightening things they face. It’s awkward. I’m more awkward than most. I tend to be an introvert, but walking up to another lone sole at a lunch buffet and simply stating the obvious can be a great way to meet people. Put your phone away and ask people easy questions like, what do you think of the show? What have you seen that I should not miss? Asking people for their opinions in this situation puts people at ease and open to learning more from you as well. Having a PR wing man (or woman) helps, too. During a high profile show in Geneva a few years ago, my PR consultant introduced me at a UNHCR event as the “American living in India in a house with no electricity and no running water.” Since the company I worked for built solar powered telecom infrastructure equipment, I was memorable because there wasn’t anyone else out there like me.
If you’re not the networking type, maybe the face-to-face connection won’t work for you. Then you better be very, very good at social media. To excel at this, make sure you are hashtagging as if your life depended on it. Respond to others who are also tweeting, instagramming, and posting to Facebook and LinkedIn. Turn an online conversation into a meeting at your booth. Invite people by the booth for selfies, giveaways, try to get selfies with speakers, post photos of your CEO accepting an award, your PR consultant at the press conference. Ask for shares when appropriate. Like others’ posts and comment on them, too. Treat social media like you are showing an insider view of the conference from your experience. It doesn’t have to be “important”, just personal and authentic. Then the people will follow you.
One more thing of a delicate nature when it comes to networking is alcohol. Drinking during shows calls for the stamina of a superhero if you were matching drink for drink with some guests. I’ve worked with more than a few VP’s of Sales that could always be found with a martini in the closest bar to the venue. I’ve also worked with absolute teetotalers and recovering alcoholics which can also be a problem if they “have issues” with people drinking around them. For international shows, most events outside of the Middle East tend to be lubricated by copious amounts of alcohol and many high level employees can be an absolute nightmare to control when free alcohol is available. I have spent countless nights putting drunk executives in their rooms. I have personally had to sign off on their ridiculous bar tabs credited to their expense accounts. I’ve had acquaintances tell me that they recognized a fellow colleague who was drunk and sexually harrassing the flight attendant on a flight back to Delhi. Their behavior is unprofessional to say the least, and reflects poorly on the company as well. While that kind of culture may be all right for a brokerage on Wall Street, it is not the brand I want to build. Having a clear set of policies as to what is appropriate while at a show should be clearly spelled out and enforceable.
Then, network away, mindful that every action you take, every word you say, reflects on the company and what it stands for. If you value your brand, behave yourself. You never know who else is on that plane.
I’m sure other folks have survived worse networking experiences; share your stories below. What’s the worst that’s happened to you?