Are you making the most out of events and expos?

Anthony Charles pic

Business growth isn’t achieved by hard work alone; smart working can be achieved by aligning yourself with the right people who can be very instrumental in making your journey from employee to entrepreneur a real success.  Finding good people in business isn’t hard if you know what you are looking for and what you have to offer.  A great place to meet good people is at business fairs or expos; it’s a great opportunity to meet numerous businesses under one roof and it’s a haven for contacts, clients and possible joint ventures.

But how do you get the best out of an event where you have sometimes hundreds of exhibitors and one or two (if you are lucky) days to make great connections?

In building Choices Magazine I have found expos and similar events invaluable for meeting the right people.  For me, time is always of the essence; even if I have two days at my disposal, walking around numerous stands for hours can be hard going, so I like to wrap up my contacting and networking in one day.  In order to ensure that I get the very best from a visit, I have a few rules that I stick to that have worked very well for me over the years.

Rule 1. Preparation (prevents poor performance)

For me, being prepared before I visit an event is key; I always make time to look up the events website; I take note of any promotional emails to make sure I don’t miss out on any offers on the day.  Some people attend events on the fly, speaking to any and everyone, making sure that they collect the mandatory bag full of literature which is dumped in a corner, only to be revisited when most of the information is obsolete.  My days of turning up to an event without prior planning are long over; I need to know exactly what I’m going to do when I get there; after all, it’s likely that I will be using the most productive part of my day to be there, so I have to make sure it’s worth my while.

In preparation I first decide how long I am going to be at the event for; sometimes I’m there from start to finish and other times it’s a shorter visit. I like to look at who is exhibiting; who is speaking and then I begin to compile my list; I make a ‘must see list’ consisting of people who I must see and talk to and then I make an ‘if there is time list’ I guess that speaks for itself.

I then look at my must see list and break down how much time I can actually spend speaking to each person.  You might think that I’m being a bit pedantic, but think about this; if I wanted to speak to 50 exhibitors and I decided to give each one 10 minutes, I would need more than 8 hours to achieve this; hence my two lists and eyes on the time and yes, I even factor in my break.  And you don’t have to be someone who is very detailed to do this; I certainly am not.

Lastly I’m always clear why I want to see someone; it might be for their product or service; or in some cases I want to align myself with them, so I have to be crystal clear on what I have to offer them.

Rule 2. Stay on purpose

Once I arrive at the event, I am as disciplined as I can be; sorry if your name or stand number is not on my must see list, all you can get from me is a polite smile and a hello as I pass.  I stay on purpose until I’ve seen everyone I need to see and as I know why I want to speak to everyone on my list, I use those minutes productively.

I’m not a robot and I do stop at the odd table or stand from time to time; I like pens so if there are some nice promotional ones I might stop to get one; I also like key rings or sweets, so promotional items do work.  You never know, if I approach a table or stand and it seems interesting they may make it onto my ‘if there is time’ list.

Rule 3. Don’t be hungry for a sale

Some people attend events with one mission and that is to sell what they have and I’m not talking about exhibitors who have paid good money to display their business.  I’m talking about the person who answers your question of ‘what do you do?’ with a full sales pitch and attempt to close.  I’m never looking for a sale; I’m always looking for an opportunity; now a conversation may lead to chance of a sale and that’s great, but there is so much more; it may be to simply add someone to my mailing list, to feature them in Choices, to refer that person to someone who would be a useful contact, to speak again to explore possibilities, or for some kind of collaboration.  Don’t be like the blood hounds or sharks that smell blood and go in for the kill.

Rule 4. Don’t play cards

Don’t be a professional card player, assuming the role of a dealer in a casino.  At an event, if I am asked for my card, I gladly hand it over and I’ll definitely request cards from those I want to follow up on, but I’m not in to the mandatory exchange of cards.

I write quick notes on business cards while I’m listening to the person who gave me the card; I find that it is the best place to store crucial information to help me to recall the date I met the person, a specific reason why I’m calling them back and the priority of importance in getting back to them (I use simply 1, 2 or 3); these cards always end up in my left jacket pocket.

A no no for me is someone who wanders round, just handing out their business cards to everyone; it’s not the best practice to wander round interrupting conversations for the sole purpose of thrusting your business cards at people; sorry but those cards end up in my right hand jacket pocket destined for the bin.  And yes, I may miss an opportunity of a decent contact, but I doubt it; how you do one thing is how you do many things and first impressions are good indicators for me, plus my follow-up list is long enough to keep me occupied.

Rule 5. Always practice networking

Once I’ve worked through my lists, if I have time, I network with other delegates; it’s great to meet other attendees and it’s a great opportunity to build communication skills.  It’s one thing walking up to someone on a stand who is eager to talk to you, but how good are you at striking up a conversation with someone waiting in a queue, or someone you just made brief eye contact with?  When I was a novice at networking, I used events like an expo to build my skills.  It was easier to build my networking skills at an expo rather than a networking event; the main reason was that at a networking event the pressure is always on, so you either get stuck in, stand like a piece of furniture, head outside for some air or steady your nerves with one too many glasses of wine.

At an expo, the pressure is off because there were always numerous people on stands or tables just eager to speak to you; it allowed me to practice my people / networking skills and without the pressure, I would set myself a target of how many new people I was going to meet, or how many referrals I would make.  Sometimes I practiced different techniques like walking up to people to start a conversation, or leaving a conversation and whenever things went wrong or the pressure started to get a bit too much, I would go back to friendly conversation with exhibitors on stands.

Rule 6. Follow Up

Cards that I have written #1 on are people who I want to feature in Choices or those who have a product or service of high interest to me, or someone I can possibly do a joint venture with.  I would have already agreed with these people that I will be contacting them within 24 – 48 hours so they will be expecting my call or email.

I make a lot of use of technology to help me with my follow ups as time can be really tight sometimes.  I use Outlook for my emails so when I get back from an event, I go on to Outlook, write all of my follow-up emails and then time them to go out in 24 – 48 hours.  That’s really useful as what we talked about is still very fresh in my mind.  If I have to make follow-up phone calls I can set an alarm on my phone or calendar and again, I’ll set up timed text messages to go out automatically to remind my contact that I will be calling them.

Rule 7. Follow Through

Lastly; I’m never fazed when I email someone or call and leave a message and they do not get back to me immediately.  People are busy and everyone does whatever they feel is a priority to them and as important as I think that I am to them, I always remember that other people don’t always hold that same opinion, so a bit of patience and persistence always pays off.

Sometimes, people don’t reply and end up using the services of a competitor.  When this happens I always remember that the market place always pays for value or perceived value.  So my job is to make my products or services a priority for people; I have to keep adding value and promoting my products or services until clients see or perceive value. I have to be consistent, so that when they do come knocking, I am ready to solve their problem effectively.

I love attending business events and expos; I always have great experiences; no bags full of brochures and leaflets to be forgotten about; great contacts, great clients and great content for Choices.

Have fun at the events and expos; use them productively to align yourself with the right people at the right time to make your transition from employee to entrepreneur a smooth one and the growth of your business a sure thing.

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