We don’t attend them too frequently, but a couple of us recently made it to trade shows – and we had some observations.
I attended the 2016 Document Strategy Forum, a conference gathering professionals involved in “content, collaboration, technology and governance” at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare. Jill Wilson attended the National Restaurant Association 2016 here in Chicago.
I was attending DSF with a client. As for Jill: “My friend was in town as an exhibitor and snuck me in with a colleague’s badge so I could eat my way through all the samples. At the bottom you’ll find an embarrassing list of things I ate in two hours. Spoiler alert: the only vegetables were hot dog toppings :(”
We each saw some good and some bad tactics, but we both noticed some common offenses we thought were worth sharing.
If you’re a seasoned trade show veteran and you’re in a rut, perhaps these observations from people who don’t frequent trade shows will be helpful.
Jill: There were lots of these walking around NRA. They invariably took one look at my name and the company I was with, then moved along without eye contact. Hey, eyes up here buddy.
Charlie: There’s already a lot of unnatural “social” interacting happening at networking and marketing events like trade shows. The people who avoid eye contact until they’ve approved what they see on the badge and then go for the business card exchange are really doing their part to ratchet up the ick factor.
The patiently sitting behind the desk-er
Jill: You’ve seen these people: two awkwardly smiling dorks, usually a man and a woman, casually coordinated in company-branded golf shirts, perched on their chairs behind the booth waiting for people to come up and engage with them. Don’t be lazy. Get up, stand in front of the booth and make yourself more approachable.
Charlie: It was strange to see so much of this. These employees sat behind a desk and watched no one stopping by. Some smiled passively, others stared at their phones or talked to co-workers, sometimes facing AWAY from the floor. In either case, there was zero part of me that felt like engaging these people – and the rest of the room seemed to agree. On the other hand, it felt natural enough to approach the people standing out in front of their booth (facing the floor).
The never-ending talker
Charlie: I saw this a few times, and I’d put this at the opposite end of the spectrum from the name tag scanner. This is the sales guy from another booth who stops by, realizes that he is talking to a competitor or someone outside his target audience, and then nevertheless continues to forge ahead with meandering small talk for as long as the other person will allow. I’m all for some friendly conversation that isn’t focused on sales or lead gen, but when the conversation is hitting the twenty-minute mark and you’re talking about how long your commute took back when you drove to the Loop from Sheboygan three days a week back in ’89, it might be time to consider if this is really the best use of everyone’s time.
On the Bright Side
Jill: There was a good move from one NRA exhibitor – a gelato franchise with a cold case of delicious-looking gelato. No flavor names were listed next to the gelato tubs. At first I thought this was a mistake to not have anything marked, but then realized that it made people ask the folks manning the counter what each flavor was. It started conversations. I thought that was a good little trick.
Last But Not Least
Jill: This is the list of everything I shamefully ate over the span of two hours at the NRA show:
Vienna Beef Hot dog
Smoked meats – salami, ham
Beer…ok, three beers
Something made in a Vitamix. I still don’t know what it was
Charlie is the Chief Strategy Officer at Simple Machines Marketing. When he's not doing the marketing, he likes playing guitar, hanging with his family in Chicago and lots of other stuff too but this seems like a good amount for a blog bio.