My name is Cheryl, and I love to visit business expos!  There.  I’ve said it.   My secret is out, and there’s no going back!

In all seriousness, a business expo can present great networking and marketing opportunities, but sadly, not everyone seems to have grasped the concept – whether they’re behind their own stand, or visiting as delegates.

Having recently visited and exhibited at several different expos, I really can’t understand those businesses who pay for a stand yet fail to engage with the footfall passing right in front of their very eyes.  Stand space doesn’t come cheap so why have staff on your stand – or yourself if you’re the business owner – seemingly more engaged in a SmartPhone, laptop or tablet (or in some extreme cases, the floor) than the valuable client prospects before them?   It’s truly frustrating, when as a delegate, you want to find out more about a business but literally have to dance a merry jig in front of them in order to gain their valuable attention!

Hooking visitors in to your stand is another art, and one which needs to be done with careful thought.  Nobody likes to be hassled. Just think of those souks and bazaars when you’re on holiday and the “looky looky” people – a total turn-off!  Try a smile, make eye contact and think about your body language.  A simple “hello, are you enjoying the show?” is a great way to start a conversation.  The rest, as they say, is up to you.

Try to be original.  The most recent business expo I visited was on a par with an old-fashioned sweet shop-cum-off licence, with almost every exhibitor giving away confectionery or a bottle of prosecco.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this – I’ve done it myself, and also won a bottle or two in my time – but originality will help to make you more memorable.

Another turn-off is cluttered space.  Plan what you want your stand to look like but try not to overdo the giveaways, leaflets, product brochures, decorative confetti, business card boxes, bowls of sweets etc.  Keep it clean – the main star of the show should be you and your products/services.

As a visitor to an expo, think of it as a networking opportunity but adopt the “soft sell” approach.  No, not those chaps who gave us Tainted Love in 1981 but soft sell as in “by all means promote yourself but remember that you haven’t paid for exhibition space”.   Get into conversation with a stand holder, ask questions about their business – chances are, they will reciprocate.  I was horrified when exhibiting at Edgbaston Cricket Ground earlier this year, when I was quite literally pinned against my own table (which I had paid quite a bit of money for!) by four people from the same company who bombarded me with how they could revolutionise my business overnight, how much value they could add and that I’d be a fool not to use their services.  The key thing they didn’t think about was to ask me what my business does.  Had they bothered to do that in the first place, they’d have learned that my core business is more or less identical to the service they were attempting to force feed me!  And as for the lady who was hell-bent on signing me up to her organisation, without first checking whether I was already a member (yes, I am!) ……!

In a nutshell, whether you’re exhibiting or visiting a business expo, remember these top tips:-

  1. Exhibitors.  Arrive and set up in good time, not as the event opens to the public.
  2. Engage with your audience, not your on-stand technology.
  3. Think about your body language: smile, maintain eye contact, open arms …..
  4. Try to be original with prize draw competitions (data capture!)
  5. Avoid too much clutter on your stand.
  6. Try to have at least 2 of you on the stand. You WILL need loo breaks/lunch at some point during the event.
  7. Visitors – please don’t sell to me. I’ve paid for the space, not you!
  8. Is there an exhibitor list online? Plan who you want to see before you even leave the office.
  9. Take lots of business cards with you – there’s bound to be a prosecco draw somewhere!
  10. Be prepared – there may be speed networking or workshop opportunities.

Thank you for reading – I hope you found it useful.