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Hospitality Event Staffing
We're hosting a hospitality event in conjunction with our trade show booth. To best leverage this experience, what should we keep in mind with regard to staffing?

Staffing a trade show booth versus a hospitality event are two disparate tasks. For the most part, trade show staffers welcome visitors, qualify them, and move the conversations toward lead generation and sales. Hospitality-event staffers, however, should be less sales focused and more concerned with establishing and furthering relationships. And of course, event staffers are in fact the hosts, so their jobs also include ensuring that all guests feel welcome and that they enjoy themselves while immersed in your brand.

Thus, just as you do for your trade show booth, you'll need to train your company's event staff to effectively work the venue. Obviously, you'll want to relay event details such as the guest list, food and drink menus, timing, entertainment, etc. But your pre-event preparation should also include a full-on training session to discuss the type of behavior you expect from employees at this after-hours event. At the very least, conduct a 15- to 20-minute training meeting in the venue before the doors open, and have an executive kick it off to ensure attendance. To that end, here are some key points to address during this training to make sure your hospitality event is an effective marketing tool and not merely an expensive and unproductive party.

➤  Remember you are hosts, not guests. This is a working event at which food, drinks, and entertainment happen to be included, as opposed to a special treat for booth staffers after a long, hard day on the show floor. So remind staff that they need to take on the role of hosts from the minute guests enter the door until the event is complete.

For your staff, this means greeting and talking with visitors instead of other employees, ensuring attendees are enjoying their time, and acting in a manner that best represents the brand. The transition from guest to host is really just a mental mindset, but it's important to remind staff of their roles and the responsibilities that go along with them.

➤  Greet and interact with guests. At least one person should be stationed near the event entrance at all times to formally welcome guests and give them the lay of the land. Of course, larger events may require a number of greeters. These staffers can even escort arriving guests further into the venue toward the bar, food areas, etc. However, once they've entered the venue, attendees should be approached by at least one other staffer at some time during the event. This subsequent interaction could be a simple smile and a "thanks for coming," or it could be a full-on conversation to establish or further a relationship. The latter, after all, is likely one of the main reasons you're hosting the event.

A typical staff/attendee conversation might look something like this. A staffer walks up to the person, makes eye contact, offers him or her a hand to shake, and says something like, "Welcome to the event. I'm Matt with the XYZ Company, the firm hosting tonight's reception. Thank you so much for coming!" A follow-up might take the form of an engaging question, such as "Would you like something to eat or drink? The Wagyu sliders are particularly good," "Is there a contact at our company that I can introduce you to, perhaps your salesperson or representative?", or simply "What about the event appealed to you enough to draw you in the door?" The idea is merely to open a conversation and to see where it leads. You're not forcing a sale down someone's throat; you're having a social interaction.

And of course, as hosts, staffers should ensure that everyone feels included in the event. So if they see a couple of people standing alone or off to the side, encourage your reps to be proactive by casually approaching them, opening a conversation, and potentially introducing them to other attendees with whom they might have something in common.

➤  Steer clear of colleagues. It seems obvious that if you're interacting with guests, you're not sitting, talking, and eating with other employees. However, this is one of the most common potholes staffers step into at hospitality events, so it bears reiteration.

Your event staff should be mingling and interacting with the attendees, not each other. Granted, if a rep or two is particularly introverted, it's perfectly fine to pair up staffers and encourage them to work the room together. But the focus should be on visitors, not each other.

➤  Establish territories at larger events. If you're hosting a VIP reception for a handful of guests, this tip clearly doesn't apply. But if you have a sizeable event with perhaps 100 guests or more, or even a large venue with various rooms or nooks and crannies, consider assigning staffers to specific areas within the location.

Thus, each staffer will have a specific zone where he or she will be responsible for greeting and conversing with guests. Plus, if you make all staff aware of who's covering which territories, they'll know where to find each other. That way, if a staffer identifies a guest who wants to meet a specific member of your team, he or she will know the general vicinity in which to locate the rep.

Another option is to designate three or four staffers as floaters with no territory assignments. Their role will be to greet visitors and cover areas that have no staffers available – either because they are busy or they needed to walk a visitor somewhere outside of their area.

➤  Control your behavior. Some people seem to think that business protocols fly out the window when they're at a social event. So it certainly won't hurt to reinforce the type of appropriate business behavior you expect.

Suggest that staff curtail how much alcohol they consume at a business event, and remind them that everything they do and say is a reflection of the brand. In fact, staying sober for the duration of the event might be a great option. If they want to look like part of the festivities while still maintaining their full composure, consider that club soda with lime resembles a gin and tonic, and a cola mimics a rum and Coke. And of course, a nonalcoholic beer appears identical – and often tastes remarkably similar – to a frosty cold one.

Along these same lines, encourage staff to let your guests have the first shot at the food. Certainly, you don't want to run out and leave guests hungry, but even if that's not a concern, it's polite to ensure that most attendees have filled their plates before your team dives in and helps themselves.

And finally, caution staff to mind their conversation topics and volume. They're likely in a room full of customers and prospects, many of whose companies and products are in direct competition with each other. So while it's certainly acceptable to talk a little shop if a guest broaches the topic, be careful that staffers aren't revealing sensitive information about the guest or another client that could be overheard by a nosy bystander.

Staffing a hospitality event isn't brain surgery. But unless you train your staff and approach the event with a little finesse, you risk not only tarnishing your brand's image in front of an important audience but also failing to extract every ounce of effectiveness from this marketing spend.

— Matt Hill, president, The Hill Group, San Jose, CA
Help Wanted
Send your tough questions about exhibiting to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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