The more complex your product is, the more likely you are to need a technical expert in your booth to explain the more arcane details. Even the best-trained marketing staff cannot always handle specialized questions. That is why it is essential that your booth staff include one or two people whose primary expertise lies not in marketing the finished product, but in creating and implementing the product design.
Unfortunately, marketing and engineering require very different skills and personalities. Dragging an engineer into a trade show with no preparation can be as disastrous as forcing a marketing expert to design a space satellite.
The key concept here is preparation. With time and care, you can teach a technical expert some of the people-oriented skills needed to talk comfortably and confidently with strangers. By selecting the right experts, giving them careful preparation, and taking care of their needs, you can have a successful trade show in which everyone benefits.
Choosing Your Expert
I once worked with a company whose chief systems architect would have seemed like the perfect public representative. A certified genius, Ed was also handsome, articulate, and charming with his friends. However, Ed was a deep introvert who became tongue-tied when in the presence of more than six strangers, and he needed to work alone 98% of the time. His boss, whose first duty was to protect Ed from distractions, wisely refused to let his genius go. Instead, he sent another employee who understood the technical side but was comfortable in a public role.
At least six months before the show, start discussing your needs with the head of the technical side of your company. You may be tempted to ask for the top performer or most innovative engineer, but that can be a mistake. Ask for someone who is comfortable with strangers, has good people skills, and can readily explain the whys and wherefores of technical decisions. You do not necessarily need the genius in the corner cubicle who actually runs everything.
Making Expectations Clear
When engineers enter a new situation, they want information so they can master it. Give them detailed descriptions of what to expect and what will be expected of them. Share articles about trade shows, checklists of duties, and other background information that will give them confidence and clarity. Knowledge is power and protection to the average technical person. Just telling them “ Relax and wing it, you’ll be fine” is counterproductive at best.
Teaching Presentation Skills
Once you have chosen an expert or two, you need to make sure they learn to be comfortable discussing the product with strangers. Remember that public speaking is the number one fear for many people—much scarier than death, heights, or spiders. Many companies offer such training to employees who need to meet the public. A program like Toastmasters can also be very useful to turn shyness into confidence.
You should also write out basic scripts and drill your new booth staff until they are comfortable. Videotape these sessions so you can go through the tapes privately with each staff member. That way you can show your staff where they need to improve their listening skills, learn not to interrupt, and use friendly body language. Don’t forget to praise their successes as well.
Trading Skill Sets
While you’re working with technical employees, take the opportunity to learn from them as well as teach them. Arrange for your expert to teach the marketing staff about the in-depth complexities of your product. Not only will marketing staff be getting a first-class grounding in the product, your experts will feel reassured and proud of their technical accomplishments.
Be aware that these employees are highly competitive and accustomed to being stars. They may feel incompetent and uncertain when entering the totally new world of the trade show. Make sure you show your experts that you respect them and value their skills.
Dressing Booth Staff for Success
All booth staff, not just the technical employees, should be given explicit instructions for appearance and behavior on the trade show floor. Send a memo with a list of basic standards to everyone, so the experts know they are not being singled out. Some companies offer haircuts, personal shoppers, and charm school lessons to technical staff who must represent the company.
You may also find it helpful to have private meetings with booth staff or to bring in a makeover consultant for private discussions of what to wear, how to style hair, and other grooming tips. This delicate subject should be handled with discretion, tact, and clarity.
The trade show floor, with its crowds of people, glittering displays, and parade of new faces can be exhilarating to an extrovert. To an introvert, it’s agony. If your resident product expert is an introvert, make sure that he or she gets scheduled breaks from the press of the crowd.
You may also want to set up your experts in a separate meeting space where you can take attendees who want to discuss technical issues. Having this separate territory, the engineer is likely to feel more at home and at ease. Introverts in general need a sense of personal space, rather than sharing public space with everyone. A separate meeting room can offer this, as well as making actual technical discussions easier to hear over the noise and bustle of the trade show booth.
Remember that the attendees who want or need detailed specs are also likely to be technical people rather than marketing people. They may also be more comfortable away from the press of the crowd.
Although few people are equally at ease with both the technical world and the marketing world, many people can learn the basic skills to operate effectively in both. If you can put together a team that blends marketing and technical expertise, you’ll get an enormous return on your investment.
Written by Susan A. Friedmann, CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, working with exhibitors and meeting & event planners to improve their event success through coaching, consulting and training. Website: www.thetradeshowcoach.com