Since this post is about the various states of convention exhibitors, I probably should add “the newbie”, “the worried” and “the over-it” to the title.

Still unsure what I’m talking about?  Let’s go over how each of these six conditions can negatively impact the interaction between vendor and attendee and how to overcome them.

THE TIRED.  Yes, it’s physically tiring to rush to the convention floor, set up a complicated booth, shower, get dressed and get back to the show before it opens, which may explain why so many exhibitors look tired even on the first day.

That’s why I always get to a convention site at least a day before the show starts.  Is this expensive?  Between time away from home, hotel rates and meals on the road, it certainly is.  But how many sales might I lose by looking tired or letting fatigue keep me from giving the precious few exhibiting hours my best attention?

And I don’t suggest doing a lot of partying or sightseeing in the hours away from the expo floor.  Standing for five or six hours is hard on your body.  Don’t complicate it or overdo it by going out to a tourist nightclub to drink the night away, just hours before the next full day of exhibiting.  Save the partying for after the show, when you’re celebrating success.

THE HUNGRY.  A few conventions have started to offer food on the floor, but I would caution against partaking in the food while the doors are open to guests.  Invariably, the minute you step away to get a piece of roast beef, some interested attendee will be ready to place an order at your booth.  Even worse, you may offend paying attendees by being in line ahead of them.

My solution?  Eat ahead of time.  Before the last few shows we’ve done, I get our booth finished a few hours before the show starts and hit a local restaurant (usually at an off hour, so less traffic) before heading to the hotel to get changed.  That way, I don’t spill anything on my good clothes and the meal has time to digest before we start talking to potential clients.

THE BORED.  Yes, shows can sometimes be slow.  But you need to find booth-related things to do to pass the time.  No, you cannot read a book, unless it’s an exciting book about your industry.  I suggest you fluff merchandise or, if you make a product, bring some to work on during the show.  One of the blogs I read is by Luann Udell, who does a lot of art shows and talks about making her art in the booth during slow sessions.

THE NEWBIE.  These folks have been pushed into a booth without any experience and no idea what to expect.  To combat this, I always pair a new person with a pro.  I’ve trained the last four of my product experts that way and it works. 

In Vegas, Robin accompanied me and learned, by watching, how to interact with our customers and bring people over to our booth.  At the 2007 IFDF, Lynn found out how I like to show off our product and which features he should highlight.  During the 2008 Kentucky show, Linda watched as I lured people into our booth and found out how to “ask for the sale.”

Most recently, at the 2008 NFDA show in Orlando, Kim learned how all the great features of our covers and marketing messages we craft (she helps me out in the workshop and the office) come together to entice funeral professionals to buy a cot cover from us.

Now I feel comfortable sending any of them out to sell covers on their own, because I know that they won’t be newbies, but seasoned veterans with the skills and knowledge necessary to anticipate what a convention will bring their way.

THE WORRIED.  There’s a transformation that happens on the second or third day of a show, when those who haven’t met their goals or are unsure of how the show will pan out begin to wonder if it’s all over for their product/service.  Unfortunately, their panic and concern usually telegraphs to the attendees and they seldom recover and turn the show around.

There’s not much you can do about becoming one of “the worried,” except understand what is happening at the show (no one wants your information, no one will enter your booth, attendance is down) and attempt to figure out what contribution you are making to the problem.  Are you aggressively inviting visitors into your booth?  Is it the product?  Are you explaining the beneficial features accurately?  Do you have body odor?  Is your nervous smile creepy to people?

Or you can do what a lot of exhibitors do when they get a case of “the worrieds.”  You can complain about the bad turnout and commiserate with the guy in the next booth.

THE OVER-IT.  These folks have clearly had enough and they’re just waiting for the signal to break down their booth and hit the road.

This can be exhibitors who have had a terrible show and even those who have sold more than their goal.  In fact, I felt this the last day of the 2008 NDA show and had to convince myself that we could still make more sales in the afternoon, even though I was ready to pack it in and rejoice over our great success.

Unfortunately, the over-its often miss great opportunities that appear on the last day.  In their rush to get their booth packed before everyone else and be out of the convention hall just as the final buzzer sounds, many ignore the thoughtful, interested clients who walk the expo floor on the last day.  As I’ve shared before, our booth neighbors at the 2007 NFDA show packed up a full 3 hours before the show ended, missing at least 5 interested visitors who wanted to know more about the diamonds they make from cremated remains (not LifeGem).

In conclusion, companies spend a lot of time and money to attend trade shows.  It’s sad to see all the hard work wasted because the human element (the part with all the cool ability to interact and impress clients and make the sale) is pre-occupied or too nervous to be “on” that day.