Every moment at a tradeshow is important. This includes, of course, all of the time you’re on the show floor. Add to that the time you’re not actively exhibiting but are on or near the floor — visiting other exhibits, grabbing a bite to eat, or en route to your hotel room. You only have a limited amount of time to represent your organization to the gathered attendees, so you want to make the most of every minute.
That’s why networking events, such as dinners or organized off-site outings, are so important. Even though these events are primarily in social in nature, they’re the ideal place to start or reinforce relationships with your clients and potential clients.
However, networking events can also create high levels of anxiety, especially among exhibitors who don’t know what they’re expected to accomplish or how they’re supposed to conduct themselves to make the most of the opportunity. You don’t want to flub it — nor have your team flub it for you.
Here are ten tips your team needs to know to shine like stars — even when they’re not on the show floor!
Breathe in, breathe out. Repeat as needed. If you’re nervous, take some time to meditate, center, or do whatever you need to do to calm yourself before getting to the event.
People come to networking events to get to know you in a social setting. The focus is on fun and conversation: two areas where most people can shine without stressing themselves out.
2. Listen more than you talk
There’s nothing in this world people love more than talking about themselves. At the same time, there’s nothing rarer than a good listener. Stifle the impulse to talk, talk, talk and focus on being a good listener. Ask the person you’re with about themselves: what they do, what hobbies they enjoy, and so on. Keep it personal and light — you don’t want to come off like you’re conducting an interrogation.
3. Take your time
This tip is especially pertinent if you’re at a show overseas. Most Americans rush through everything, including eating and having a good time. There’s really no rush. You’re not going to collect a prize for being the first one to clean your plate. Take your time, and eat slowly.
4. Stay sober
Even though it’s a casual setting, the people at the networking event will be judging you and your company by how you conduct yourself. Remaining sober will make it much easier to create a good impression. Skip the alcoholic drinks — especially if your guest opts not to visit the bar. Fewer people are drinking these days, and no one will raise an eyebrow at a coke with a slice of lemon in it.
5. Forgo fancy food
You may have gourmet tastes. This isn’t the time to show them off. Order simple, easy-to-eat food. You don’t want to slop sauce on your shirt or wrestle with claw crackers in front of someone you hardly know. After all, they might not remember your sparkling conversational skills — but they’ll always remember that you dumped the stuffed shells in your lap!
6. Be nice to the waitstaff
Waiters, servers, waitresses, bartenders and all the other people who work the facility where the networking event is being held are people too. It behooves you to treat them as such. Be polite and courteous, even if you don’t think anyone is watching. This is especially true if something’s gone wrong — a mistaken order, cold food, or any of the million other things that happen in a restaurant. How you treat the *little* people says a lot about how you can be expected to treat the *big* people.
7. Shut off the cell phone
Your intention for the evening is to get to know the people you’re with. You want their time and attention. That means it’s a good idea to shut off your cell phone — there’s nothing ruder than constantly interrupting a meal to answer the phone and expecting them to hold on while you chat.
8. Skip the gossip
Badmouthing your competition is the sure sign of an amateur. Avoid the temptation to dig up dirt on your industry colleagues or indulge in idle gossip. It’s far too easy to pick up a negative reputation for indulging in this kind of behavior — not to mention the risk of alienating peers and colleagues you might someday need on your side.
9. Leave the literature behind
Don’t bring brochures, catalogs, or samples to the networking event with you. If it turns out that the people you meet at the networking events are interested in these things, they’ll either make a point of picking them up from you at the show, or you can arrange to send it to them. On the other hand, you want to make sure you have a good supply of business cards on hand so people can get in contact with you.
10. Pick up the tab
If you’re the one entertaining, pick up the tab. Sometimes you’ll run into guests who can’t accept — their employers forbid them from accepting free meals or other gifts — so just follow their lead. Otherwise however, pay for the meal. It’s a nice gesture that shows you value the relationship.
Written by Susan A. Friedmann,CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, internationally recognized expert working with companies to increase their profitability at tradeshows. Author: “Riches in Niches: How to Make it BIG in a small Market” and “Meeting & Event Planning” http://www.thetradeshowcoach.com & http://www.richesinniches.com
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