It’s about the people

The following information is from an article Exhibitor Magazine’s April, 2010 issue.

“According to Doug Ducate, President and CEO of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), exhibit staff training is often one of the first casualties when budgets are cut. But training your booth staff is one of the smartest investments you can make in your trade show success. And various studies conducted by CEIR, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, and EXHIBITOR magazine uncovered the following statistics that underscore the importance of pre-show training.

52% of exhibit managers who conducted pre-show training reported lead increases of 20% or more. An additional 43% of respondents who implemented staff-training sessions saw leads increase by 10-20%.

68% of exhibit managers claim that a properly trained booth staff converts a higher percentage of booth visitors into qualified leads.

74% of exhibit managers believe that staff training is an important factor in assuring ROI and/or ROO at trade shows and events.

94% of trade show attendees look for and appreciate booth staffers who are knowledgeable about the products displayed in their exhibits.

75% of booth staffers reported that they respond more favorably to professional trainers from outside their companies than to internal company representatives conducting training sessions.

73% of exhibit managers report their companies have no plans to invest in training efforts despite the potential benefits of pre-show training.

31% of exhibitors provide no form of pre-show training or preparation for their staffers whatsoever.”

My take on this is that it’s all about the people. The people staffing the booth and the people attending the trade show. Here are some issues and obstacles that keep most companies from focusing on the people:

Some think it’s all about their new product or service. They have a, “Build it and they will come” mentality. They figure their people are secondary to their products and services.

The entire trade show budget is spent before even thinking about the people. Booth space alone takes almost one-third of a typical trade show budget. And you have to have booth space. Then there’s the booth. You have to have an attractive booth or no one will visit you. Oh really. I would like to see an anchor exhibitor (a big important one) just have a piece of carpeting – no exhibit booth, and an hanging sign overhead so people can find it. That’s it. The carpeted area would be staffed by well-trained booth personnel. And until they become common, each staffer should have an iPad with all of the product information. I bet it would work. After all, it’s all about the people. What better message to send than to have only people in a booth space?

The people staffing the booth don’t want to be trained and they think they’re already experts at working trade shows. And how many shows a year to these people work? Two? Six? How good are they at it if they only do it a few times a year. The analogy I use is professional sports and performances. If you go to any pro sporting event before it starts you’ll see these athletes, who are among the best in the world, warming up. Preparing. Because they know they need to be good right when the game starts. And how about if you attend a concert, play, dance, or an opera (I hate opera). These world-class performers warm up and rehearse before each performance because they know it make a huge difference. But what do must trade show staffers do. Show up? Maybe. Some are late. And do they know there’s a distinct and separate skill set to work in an exhibit booth? Most think if they’re nice, they’ll be okay. Wrong. Being nice is a start but if the focus isn’t on the visitor’s experience and if the staffers aren’t ready for a trade show environment with their elevator answers, qualifying questions, dismissing ability, etc. it won’t be all about the people. It will be about missed opportunities and the same old trade show results.

Here’ something I hear a lot, “We done training before. Our VP of Sales used to do it. And then our trade show manager used to do it but the exhibit staff didn’t really change much.” The challenge is to train them in a way that keeps them interested and engaged so that they listen and realized that they forgot a lot of stuff that will help them in a trade show booth. And they always it hear it differently from the hired gun consultant-type from outside the company. But what about the cost of bringing someone like me in? My company, The Hill Group, is probably has the most expensive exhibit staff training. But think about this: It costs most companies I work with between $600 and $1,200 per hour, per person to have someone in their booth (for at least a 30×30 booth and include everything; booth space, booth property, travel, associated events, etc.). For this much money I don’t think you can afford to have staffers not knowing exactly what to do when the booth is slow or congested to make the most of their time. If your people are engaged, trained, entertained and motivated, what’s that worth? Remember it’s about people. If people visiting a booth don’t get treated with respect and treated like the guests they are, they’ll leave.

No budget for training. So how many more conversations produce the necessary amount of additional leads that result in incremental sales to pay for staff training? That’s what staff training offers: More conversations, more leads, more sales. There are more quality interactions in a trade show booth that happen in one hour than any salesperson can have in a month. But it’s not worth any training to produce more sales? If it’s all about the people, then where’s that investment? I’ve seen companies spend budget on hats or creative booth lighting instead of on their people by training them. It drives me crazy. It’s like having to force-feed a starving person some food.

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Handling the Emotional Unintelligent: The Dominator

Emotional Intelligence as defined by Daniel Goleman has five domains:
1. Knowing your emotions.
2. Managing your own emotions.
3. Motivating yourself.
4. Recognizing and understanding other people’s emotions.
5. Managing relationships, ie., managing the emotions of others.

Live events, parties, family gatherings, actually anywhere there are other people around offers opportunities to have a number of conversations. So let’s say you’re at a live event at the traditional first-evening networking social event. You end up next to someone in the bar line and begin chatting. And after you both get your drinks the conversation continues.

At least you thought this was going to be a conversation. But it’s turned into a monologue. They’re doing all of the talking and apparently without needing to take a breath. And you’re being nice; making eye contact, periodically nodding your head, etc. But you can’t get a word in. And what they’re talking about was marginally interesting for a minute or two, but not for five or ten or more. But they think you’re fascinated. They think you’re on your toes with anticipation of what they might say next. This is the first sign that this person in Emotional Unintelligent. This type of Emotionally Unintelligent conversationalist is known as The Dominator.

But you so desperately want to leave this conversation. So you step it up on notch non-verbally. You break direct eye contact and move your eyes to each side hoping to catch the eye of someone you know who might come and rescue you. And breaking eye contact should non-verbally communicate to this person that they don’t have your complete attention. But it doesn’t work. They’re oblivious. So you begin to tilt your head to one side instead of nodding as you try to communicate that you don’t understand or don’t agree with what they’re saying. Nothing. They are still somehow talking non-stop with no breathing breaks.

You next try the tried-and-true techniques of glancing at your watch. Nope. They keep talking. You then move next to the newer-generation technique of glancing at your cell phone (maybe that’s your watch too). But they still don’t get it. They forge ahead with their self-focused monologue. Yes, this person is definitely lacking some in the empathy and reading body language department. They are Dominating.

So you become even more bold. You deliberately interrupt them to offer some feedback or you interrupt them to change the subject. Now they’re shocked. They are taken aback by your interruption. They seem upset that you would dare try to participate. After all they are so self-absorbed that they can’t imagine any other topic to be of more interest to you. So they quickly answer your question or make a quick comment on your suggested topic but then they pick up their monologue right where they left off and you’re stuck again being dominated.

For this poor, dominated attendee, they think this will be their entire evening. And they see no way out. They don’t know what to do. If they’re polite, they really don’t want to just turn and walk away. And if they pride yourself on telling the truth, they don’t want to stoop to saying something like, “You’ll have to excuse me, I’ve got some powerful abdominal cramps right now and need to use the rest room.” That will work, but most people won’t try it (chickens!).

My advice: don’t try to change this person. Don’t try to point out that a conversation is an exchange of ideas, sentiments, observations, or opinions and not a monologue. This is not your job and chances are this person is doing the best they can being as emotionally unintelligent as they appear to be.

So what do you do? Be direct. Be honest. And take control away from this Dominator. Here’s what I do and it works. Because it’s so obvious that one of the goals of a networking event is to network, to mingle, to mix, it’s okay if you do that. I simply interrupt both non-verbally and verbally. I hold up my hand like a stop sign and then quickly drop it to shake their end, which is a universally accepted way of ending a conversation. Then I simultaneously say, “I want to go mingle around some more now, it’s been great listening to you (rather than “great talking with you”, it’s a little dig – I can’t help myself), enjoy the rest of the event.” Then I turn and leave.

Or I say this, it is a variation what I suggested earlier, “I need to interrupt you as I have to use the restroom.” If they follow you to the restroom (I’ve seen it happen), I hope you are of different genders. And I hope they don’t wait for you at the entrance to the restroom. If they do, use this tactic: “I am meeting my friend right now over there, it’s been great listening to you, enjoy the rest of the event.”

If you both go into the same restroom, only stay in the stall for a count of five. Then leave and move far away from your original conversation spot, head to another rest room, and/or get into another conversation ASAP.

The Emotionally Unintelligent Dominator cannot be dominated. Don’t try. But you can leave at any time. Do it non-verbally, verbally, and then walk somewhere else. It works.

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