It was in 1995 that I attended a trade fair as part of the exhibition team for the first time. I was a 19-year-old apprentice at a Religious Book Publishing House. I was very excited and glad that my colleague had managed to book a room close to the fair at a very short notice. It was long before Google Maps etc., so I took a taxi from Frankfurt Central Station to … my hotel in the Frankfurt red-light district just around the corner. The cab driver still was happy to give me a ride and made me promise not to leave the house after 9 p.m. The way to Frankfurt Bookfair the next morning felt exciting enough. I was happy to quickly locate the stand and somehow surprised that visitors assumed I could indeed talk about the content of books carrying cryptic titles too abstract for me to even memorize. Clearly, there was room for improvement, I thought to myself…
Since then I must have attended more than 150 shows, both as a visitor and an exhibitor. From my experience, I would like to share some habits I have observed any newcomer might want to especially avoid:
In German, there is a saying “Ein schöner Rücken kann auch entzücken” (A splendid dorsal view can be delightful too). Imagine that your company has spent a fortune on participating in the show. Registration fees, stand construction, marketing, travel cost, … and what is the first and maybe the last impression of a visitor and potential client? Your backside and maybe the half profile of the colleague you are talking to. Staring into your laptop or mobile phone isn’t any better.
I have once made three attempts to meet one of my clients whom I hadn’t met in person before. His tiny booth always seemed super busy. Good for him I thought. Well, all seats had been occupied by his staff. They must have had a very good time – though I doubt if they talked to any new prospects.
If you are from a foreign country and language is an issue, it is a good idea to hire a local person to help you out. Please make sure she is not doing her nails at the reception counter though.
Try to avoid public display of affection. Try to avoid display of behaviour that might be perceived as inappropriate in other countries. I remember two Indian gentlemen strolling around Messe München fair-ground, handholding. My guess is that hardly any German business person would have taken them seriously. If – at the stand – you cannot suppress the urge to kiss and hug your colleague whom you have made friends with the night before, please make sure to at least close the kitchen door.
…and don’t forget to get out again: It is a good idea to offer snacks and drinks to guests and not to give them the impression that they have now consumed your emergency provisions. Don’t forget food for your staff. Else they might be gone forever trying to grab a “quick” bite or may be stay hungry and get grumpy. In any case, no matter how important food is in your culture, better make sure that visitors wouldn’t feel awkward about disturbing you when you are eating. Be aware that some dishes might pose a challenge to other peoples’ nose buds.
If you manage to talk to a visitor, let him or her also talk! No matter how much time you have spent preparing the perfect sales pitch, if you do not let the other person participate in the conversation, she might feel frustrated and chances are you will never find out what is her exact need.
And finally: Although neighbouring exhibitors might be competitors, don’t perceive and treat them as enemies. I had a very nice experience once when someone with whom we had engaged in some small talk the evening before led two relevant prospects to my client’s booth. Our neighbour could not serve the specific needs but knew my client would.
All the best!