While everyone around me is enjoying the relative calm after the holidays, I am frantically preparing to attend the larger of the semi-annual Craft & Hobby Association trade shows in my role as the editor of the trade journal Scrapbook Update.
For a long time I thought of trade shows as specialized shopping malls, with dealers in booths trying to sell their wares to a sea of customers. But recent experiences have taught me that trade shows aren’t just shopping malls.They are the business equivalent of speed dating.
Technology has changed what most businesses need to get out of a trade show. Thanks to the ability of the web to spread information, a trade show isn’t a customer’s only way to learn about products that they need. Vendors can educate customers via the web, and make sales contacts via email.
That almost sounds like there isn’t a need for trade shows any more. But on a day-to-day level, for many of the things that we do conducting business, we don’t do business with companies. We do business with people. That is where the real value still is in trade shows. “Networking” is a buzzword we hear all the time, but at trade shows it really has become the primary value. It just isn’t worth it to go to most shows anymore only to do a “look-see”. You only get true value if you go with the intent of interacting, meeting people and furthering relationships.
That is why it’s a good way to think about trade shows as speed dating. In speed dating, you rotate around a room and spend a few minutes each with different people before deciding if you connected with any of them and want a more extended interaction. At a trade show, you run around a trade show floor chatting for a few minutes at a time with a variety of people, trading business cards and then extending an invitation to follow-up with someone you think you might be able to establish a relationship with. Both are about spending a few minutes to get a first impression and decide whether there might be anything in a future relationship between you.
So how do you succeed at trade show speed dating?
- Make a good first impression. Pay attention to the details, just like you would if you were trying to impress someone to get a date. What you wear, how you carry yourself, and what you say all contribute to that first impression. Make sure you correctly gauge the vibe of the event. Over-dressing can be just as bad as under-dressing.
- Think outside the box. Don’t dismiss someone as a business connection because it seems like what they do isn’t useful to you. Talk to everyone. If you meet someone you find yourself feeling in step with professionally, don’t walk away from that. Maybe one or both of you will change positions at a future point. Or maybe you can work together in some ground-breaking new way.
- Have good radar. This takes practice. It really is an art. But learning how to spot the people who are fake, or putting on a show, will save you a lot of trouble down the line. And it will save you networking time because you can move on to the next prospect faster, and maybe find that next fabulous business connection all the sooner.
What is your best trade show networking tip?