Dealing With a Reluctant Exhibit Staff

Things have changed a bit since the economic downturn. It used to be that most exhibit staffers had to be dragged kicking and screaming to work at a trade show. But lately, complaining about this is not a good career move and to cut expenses, companies often try to draw staff from the area around the trade show venue and they really have no choice but to work.

But any staff with an attitude problem will adversely affect your trade show’s success. But have no fear, the following solicited advice might be worth trying (but remember, turning attitudes around usually doesn’t happen overnight, it’s  a process that over time will yield positive results):

  1. The staff might like working the shows more if they had more of role in the planning and operation of the exhibit. Wait, whom am I kidding? No really. Start the email updates early about the wonderful spot on show floor that you have, an expected attendance increase, Minneapolis in the middle of March – you know, all the good stuff.
  2. Remind the staff in the on results from last year’s show; orders, sales, lead generation, meetings, PR, etc. If they know they have a hand in starting or furthering a sale, they’ll take some satisfaction in their effort for this year.
  3. Work them in half-day shifts if possible. I know it’s twice the expenses but if you can it makes a difference. And give them more breaks from booth duty than expected if they are working all day.
  4. Give them more responsibility. Put them in charge of a section in the booth, or a product area or display, or to be your traffic flow consultant.
  5. When it slows down, have them do some competitive information gathering or ask them to walk the show and report back on the busiest booth or the most attractive booth. And ask them why they think this.
  6. Give the staff goals to meet; qualified leads, number of key customer conversations and not enraging more than four or five visitors per day, etc.
  7. Manage their expectations of what the results of their efforts could be. Trade shows are sales and marketing events. Quick sales from trade shows do happen if the timing is just right but most results from trade shows happen over the next few months. Set your exhibit staff’s expectation for this trade show ROI timeframe.
  8. Trade shows are about working with people. This can be fun, especially if your staff learns how to work effectively with their booth visitors. If their conversations spin out of control, if they’re not able to get to their agenda, or if they can’t remove themselves from unproductive conversations, your staff will not be having fun.

There is no escaping the hard, grueling working at a trade show. Any attempt to gloss over this reality will sap your credibility. An honest assessment of what your exhibit staff can expect will enable you to move them past the not-so-fun aspects of the trade show to the parts of working the show can be fun:

I think the following strategies will help your staff have some fun working in your exhibit booth:

  1. Don’t have them take the show too seriously. Yes, it’s serious money and time to put on an event like a trade show. But a trade show is about people and face-to-face interaction. A friendly, not frantic, attitude from your staff will put your visitors more at ease and make them more receptive to your messages, products and services. It can actually be fun for your staff to meet a lot of people from all parts of your industry and hear them get interested, and maybe even excited, about your company. When you introduce this concept, tell a few stories about how this happened to you or how it happened at the last show.
  2. Divert their attention. Instead of reinforcing the negatives of a multi-day trade show, (sore feet, dry throats and hangovers) focus them on setting and meeting individual and team goals. If the staff owns the results of the show, this will promote camaraderie and take their attention and focus away from those negatives. They’ll have more fun when they feel successful and when they feel like they’re making a difference. Give frequent and specific recognition.
  3. Balance their day. Team function like eating together and attending meetings are fine, but give your exhibit staff down time to re-generate and regain their energy. Even during the show, when it slows down, send them off on a quick break. Make recommendations so their break is rejuvenating; a brisk walk, sitting down with a cool drink, getting somewhere less noisy (outside or amongst the conference meeting rooms).

Matt Hill

Matt Hill has been speaking and training since 1983. He specializes in making his clients more effective with their face-to-face interpersonal skills. He has trained over 50,000 people in the U.S. and around the world. Matt lives in San Jose, CA with his wife, Lynn. They have three children; a daughter living in Boston, a son in grad school at CalPoly San Luis Obispo, and another daughter in at Chico St. University. If you’re ever in San Jose and want to take a mountain bike ride or play some tennis, call him.

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