recently attended EXHIBITOR2013 in Las Vegas, where our industry's greatest minds came together for four days of networking, idea sharing, face-to-face connections, and new idea sourcing. Like most attendees, I arrived with a pre-set "buying agenda" of tools I was searching for.
In the course of attending the show, I visited a number of exhibits and reviewed their offerings relevant to my particular needs. In many cases, the interactions went very well — I felt as though the exhibitors listened as I elaborated on my "pain points" and gave me unique insight into how their products/services might fulfill my needs.
But other encounters were less satisfying.
Many exhibitors went to great lengths to prepare presentations and people for what and whom they would encounter at the show, with lots of clever angles and metaphors to illustrate their particular stories. And many times, I was whisked away into a rollicking presentation reminiscent of a Disney-like attraction.
While enthralled, I couldn't help feeling a bit frustrated by the whole process.
In one case, my particular "pain point" had come up early in the "script" and was briefly touched on. But then the staffer quickly segued to more dramatic elements as the experience reached it's climax. But the answer to my question was never fully explored, and I left without a solution.
In another case, my "pain point" fell much later in the script, and I found myself growing impatient, as I waited to talk about something that was actually relevant to me.
While I agree that an exhibit must be "visitor worthy" to attract people and get them to invest time there, it must also be "visitor respectful" by being flexible enough to allow a time-starved attendee like myself to dictate the terms of the interaction.
It is precisely this element of control that creates the greatest opportunity for exhibitors to maximize the progress they make in moving a visitor toward the ultimate goal (whatever it is). And since trade shows (and all face-to-face events, really) offer severely limited windows of time to reach visitors, we as exhibitors, must make the most progress we can, in the shortest time, whenever we encounter a client or prospect who is qualified and interested in what we have to say.
As exhibitors forking out large sums of money to participate in trade shows and expositions, we can't negate the huge advantage afforded by face-to-face opportunities by forcing all visitors into a pre-conceived mold.
The solution is simple: Listen once in a while, then be respectful and flexible enough to present exactly the information your visitor is looking for.
In the instances where this listen-first-and-present-relevant-information-later process was followed at EXHIBITOR2013, I walked away with solid understanding and an improved opinion of the exhibiting company. When I was frustrated by the "script," however, I left feeling as though the company never really understood me and my needs.
Now, a week removed from my show floor experience, I will learn which exhibitors actually took my discussions seriously enough to pick up our conversation from where we left off. If national statistics are any indication, then:
75% will never even contact me
20% will send me a "form letter" or e-mail inviting me to visit their website (essentially asking me to "start over" and begin my conversation again)
5% might pick up our discussion where we ended and move forward
The beauty of EXHIBITOR2013 is that all of us trade show professionals get to be the attendees for a change, and that opportunity affords us a chance to reflect on how our booth visitors must feel when they experience our exhibits at shows. So take a lesson, exhibitors, and listen before you launch into your script. Train your staffers to be responsive, not rote and robotic. I promise you'll be glad you did.
Bob Milam, independent industry consultant, is a former EXHIBITOR Editorial Advisory Board member and a past All-Star Award winner, and a current EXHIBITOR Conference advisory board and faculty member. firstname.lastname@example.org