What’s Keeping Exhibitors from Approaching Prospects on the Exhibit Floor?

Candy Adams, a.k.a. “The Booth Mom®”

CTSM, CME, CEM, CMP, CMM

I recently attended an industry trade show and was so disappointed by the show floor. No, it wasn’t the exhibit designs that frustrated me, as they seemed especially eye-catching this year. Exhibitors’ messaging was adequate; I could tell at a glance why most of them were on the show floor. It was the exhibit staff in the booths that were downright pathetic in the majority of the exhibits.

There was one exhibit that was especially perplexing, and as I circled their booth from the aisle, looking over the design, graphics and messaging for well over a minute, no one working the booth bothered to approach me. Not one person would make eye contact. It wasn’t that I didn’t try, but three staff were clustered together at the reception counter (which, strangely, was in the center of their island exhibit, not on the aisle), fascinated by some tchotchke. Two other staffers were either on their smart phones or playing with the show’s lead retrieval system (but I have no way of knowing which because they share common handsets). I actually had to walk into the exhibit and clear my throat a couple of times to get the attention of one of the staff playing with the giveaway.

The sad part is that this wasn’t an isolated incident in just one booth. It was prevalent on the whole show floor.

But in defense of the exhibit staff members, what pre-show training were they given to review what they need to know to be both effective and efficient with the limited number of show hours? According to a 2012 report by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), Exhibition Staff Practice Summaries, only 26 percent of exhibitors conduct training for all or most events, and over one-half rarely or never hold exhibit staff training sessions.

Since working a show floor isn’t what most people do on a daily basis to earn their living, acting as exhibit staff isn’t something that’s in their comfort zone. Did the exhibit manager go over good body language or booth etiquette? Did they discuss the best ice-breakers to use when approaching a prospect on the aisle, like “What solutions did you come to the show to find?” or “Are you familiar with our company/products/services?” Were the elements of a strong elevator speech discussed and practiced until they became rote? How about composing a few effective qualifying questions, using the old newspaper reporter questions of “who”, “what”, “when”, “where” and “how”, or if all else fails, fall back on “Tell me about…”? Did they learn how to completely and accurately record the qualifying information and needs of their prospects in some type of lead-gathering system? And did they have time to rehearse these skills in mock conversations with their booth-staff colleagues to feel more confident in their interactions with visitors? For most exhibit staff (although they’ll deny it), this skill set isn’t intuitive and requires practice.

Until exhibit staff has this tool box of show communication skills, they’re not going to be comfortable, not going to be secure in their role – and definitely aren’t going to want to approach strangers in the aisles. They’ll continue to avoid the face-to-face interactions that shows are all about.

How can show managers emphasize the need to their exhibitors – and ultimately the positive bottom-line return – to take the time to review basic boothmanship skills? How can we provide exhibit staff training – either in written or webinar form – or help to train the exhibit managers in a “train-the-trainer” format?   Until we do, we’ll continue to hear complaints from exhibitors that, “The show didn’t pay off for us like we’d hoped”…

 

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Candy Adams, CTSM, CME, CEM, CMP, CMM, a.k.a. “The Booth Mom®”, is an independent exhibit and event project manager, 1-on-1 rookie exhibit manager trainer/mentor, humorous exhibit staff trainer affiliated with The Hill Group, industry speaker, award-winning monthly columnist for Exhibitor magazine’s “Exhibiting 101” and Exhibitor Show/FastTrak faculty member. CandyAdams@BoothMom.com

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