Hey Newman: I just got back from attending a trade show in Vegas and from the look of things, it seemed that most of the people staffing the booths just didn’t want to be there. Don’t you think there’s a much cheaper way to have a lousy time? —Gail from New York
This is a message for trade show vendors: At your next show, sneak up on your own booth. That’s right, pop out from around a corner about 10 yards back and take a good, honest look at your investment.
Do your booth staffers look like sad little wallflowers?
Do they look like kids at a high school social afraid to ask someone to dance?
Is there a guy sitting expressionless in front of a glass bowl of Hershey’s Kisses, wondering why no one is coming up to talk to him?
This “condition” is more common then you might think, especially with the smaller booths. At one recent show, I walked around and paid particular attention to the 5 x10 and 10 x10 booths. Often they’re manned by just two or three people who are so uncomfortable they’re burying their heads in books or dabbling with smartphones — just sitting there waiting for it all to be over.
I looked at these people and found myself thinking about Neil Strauss, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone best known for penning a book called, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists. This was the inside story of guys who despite NOT being the most attractive males out there, pick up women with absolute ease. Strauss not only researched this “secret society,” he became arguably one of the top pickup artists in the world and actually started conducting workshops for the undesirable and uninitiated.
At the heart of this book is a philosophy about “how to engage people.” He argues that if you’re going to try to pick up a woman in a bar, you don’t say, “Can I buy you a drink?” You don’t ask anything that could elicit a “no” response. Instead, you “engage” her. You contrive a story seemingly playing out before her eyes and ask, “What do you think?” Yes, it’s an opening line. But it’s an opening line that’s not clichéd or overwrought; it’s a question that pulls this woman into a story with you through her advice or involvement.
Strauss’ philosophy is hardly limited to the world of pickup artists. “Engagement” is something that most certainly can be applied to trade show marketing. I was observing the booth staff at this recent trade show, and they weren’t engaging anyone. First of all, they’re sitting. Rule No. 1: No sitting! Secondly, even when standing, they look positively miserable. If you’re spending that kind of money at a trade show and you’re planning to go there with the attitude that you’d rather be anywhere else, then don’t go! And before you say a couple of staffers don’t represent the “enthusiasm of the company,” remember that these faces are your company for the purposes of these crucial three trade show days. They are the representative image of you and the images that attendees will remember.
Honestly, if I had some sort of magisterial banishment power, King Newman would have sent home half the people working this particular trade show. If you’re going to look bored — if you’re going to feel miserable — find another way to market your services.
Here’s the ironic thing: A lot of these same people will spend a fortune on search engine optimization, which is designed to drive traffic to their site. But they don’t spend any energy driving traffic into their booth. And that doesn’t necessarily mean hiring a trade show presenter like me but perhaps a crowd gatherer — at least someone with people skills! If the person in your booth is not the type who can go up to a perfect stranger and strike up a conversation, then they’re the wrong person to be at the show.
You need to find someone who is not just a technical expert; you also need your company’s best pickup artist.
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