I know we sometimes get preachy about this here at Tradeshows And Displays, but we can’t tell you often enough: The reason you are at the show is to make face-to-face connections with customers and prospects. This includes the cocktail reception (or other networking event) before the show starts. This is often the most underutilized part of the trade show. This is not something to skip, nor is it an opportunity to tie one on with your co-workers. Rather, it’s a chance to meet potential prospects in a relaxed environment.
1. It’s only natural to seek out familiar faces, but you have to fight the urge… at least at first. Walk over and introduce yourself to someone who is alone. Or simply say hello and ask what s/he is drinking. Another strategy is the most obvious icebreaker: Ask him/her, “How long has your company been doing this show?” Awkward? Shy? Can’t bring yourself to do it? Think about how relieved you are when you are standing alone in a crowded room and someone starts a conversation with you! The other person will be glad you said hello.
People who haven’t prepared any ice-breaking questions are a little anxious about starting a conversation. Once a conversation gets going, most people are fine. Don’t stop with one person. Pull another person into the conversation, or excuse yourself and meet someone else.
2. The reception does offer a casual atmosphere; however, keep business goals in the back of your mind. But don’t force it; let it happen naturally. While you’re talking about the attractions of the city, bring up some anecdote about your company/product/service that relates. Go ahead and talk about sports, travel, etc., but don’t forget to throw in dialogue about what your respective companies do. Give yourself a head start by preparing several questions in advance, just like you would for a job interview.
3. Bring plenty of business cards, and offer to trade with each person you chat with. Just like when you’re manning the booth, jot a note on the back of the card that will remind you of the conversation. Then, seek out their booth the next day and qualify them as a lead, or just say hello. You never know: One of the people you shared a beer with at the reception might be looking for your company’s services — or vice versa.
4. And if you find yourself stuck talking to the token crazy person who won’t shut up, you can politely excuse yourself to talk to one of the people you already know that you didn’t glom onto when you walked in. “Oh, excuse me, I see my counterpart and I have to ask him/her something about our booth. Nice meeting you.”
5. Look for opportunities to be a matchmaker. Tradeshows are really the first form of LinkedIn; people can make some great connections through other connections. If you think Bob or Sheila might benefit from each other’s company’s products and services, then by all means introduce them. When they take over the conversation, you can make your exit and go introduce yourself to someone new.
6. Yes, you DO need that stinking badge! Wear it all the time, every minute you are on the show floor, at every panel discussion, lunch, dinner, reception, etc. It’s not lame or geeky. It not only identifies you as part of the group, but your name is emblazoned on it. So that person you met yesterday who forgot your name can glance at your badge and not be afraid to talk to you.
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