by Susan A. Friedmann, CSP,
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. It's a
saying so true that it has become cliché--a phrase used by suit salesmen
and purveyors of shampoo--but it's a saying that should serve as a motto
for your booth staff.
A trade show is a non-stop series of beginnings. Every moment--from
the second the doors open until they blink the lights signaling the end
of the day--is a moment where you could be meeting customers for the
very first time.
If all goes well, these crucial first moments will launch a mutually
profitable relationship that will last for years. On the other hand, if
the impression you create is not so positive, you've kissed a lifetime's
worth of business goodbye.
Beginning well's means you're half done. Once you've established a
rapport with the client, once that positive foundation has been laid,
the hard work of negotiating a deal and closing a sale becomes so much
easier. Here's what you need to know to create a favorable first
impression time and time again, over the long hours and days that you'll
be at the trade show.
What's for sale here?
Your company might make computers or luxury automobiles. You might
sell scrub brushes. You could retail the finest gems found on the Indian
sub-continent. It doesn't really matter. When you're at a trade show,
what you're selling is YOU.
Today's buyers are nervous. They've been through the dot-com bubble.
They've seen Enron blow up and corporate scandal follow corporate
scandal. Yet they still have to do business. How do they know who they
There will always be a due-diligence component to business, but a
surprising amount of decisions are made by people 'trusting their gut.'
During those crucial first minutes where you're checking out the
attendee, they're checking you out. They are, perhaps unconciously,
assessing what they perceive as your intentions and motivations. Few
people believe that they can get a good deal from someone they do not
believe to be a good person.
Key Secret: People have to 'buy' you before they can buy your
Can you hear what I'm saying?
Non-verbal communication plays a huge role in creating first
impressions. Attendees are constantly watching. If your body language
conveys the fact that you don't want to be at the show, would prefer not
to engage with attendees, or are just going through the motions, they'll
pick up on that and go elsewhere.
Standing at the corner of your exhibit with your arms folded tells
attendees "Stay away! I'm on guard." Sitting down, flipping through a
magazine, or chatting with colleagues says "I've got better things to
do." All together, it means "You're not important to me," even if you
ask the attendees what you can do for them today.
Secret: People won't come in if your body language says, "Go
The Wall of Noise
You have to approach attendees, engage them, welcome them into your
booths. Unfortunately, many staffers take this to mean that they must
offer up a constant stream of conversation, from the welcoming hello to
the assurances that "We'll be in touch!" as the attendee hurries to a
calmer, quieter exhibit.
Talking is important, but listening is more so. Shift the focus from
your own sales spiel to actually listening to the customer and you'll
find your results immediately improve. Ask attendees questions, and
listen to their answers. Give them your full attention. Hear what
they're saying and offer appropriate responses.
The fact that you're focused on the attendee, wholly engaged with
them, and committed, however briefly, to solving their problems, is one
of the easiest, most effective ways to create a positive first
impression. It sets a good precedent, establishing how you will do
business with this client further down the road. You're laying the
foundation for that positive, profitable relationship.
Secret: Focus on the attendee for maximum results.
These three secrets will stand you well in the trade show
environment. Remember that to begin new relationships, you must first
create a positive impression. Being mindful of the fact that people need
to trust you before they do business with you, avoiding off-putting body
language, and listening more than you talk will help you do exactly
that. And then you'll be well begun -- more than half done, well on the
road to starting a new profitable relationship.
Written by Susan A. Friedmann, CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid,
NY, author: “Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies,” working with
companies to improve their meeting and event success through coaching,
consulting and training. For a free copy of “10 Common Mistakes
Exhibitors Make”, e-mail: article4 @ thetradeshowcoach.com;