Having just completed my first international exhibition show as a visitor at Gulfood in Dubai, I’ve had such a positive learning experience that I wanted to share it with others.
Visiting versus exhibiting
Being a visitor as opposed to an exhibitor is hard. Of course there at those who will say that having to deal with mindless conversations and tyre kickers on the stand for a week is highly frustrating and they are right but at least you have a base to work from for the duration of the show, an option to rest your feet more frequently and the ability to normally take solace and share your experience with your colleagues or others on neighbouring stands who you invariably bond and network with over the show.
Making the right approach
After four full days walking the halls flying solo I’ve certainly got a new found respect for those who spend many hours trawling round the shows and speaking with exhibitors in search of business opportunities. Particularly those chameleons like me who often have to engage with the people on the stand, ask a few probing questions before they decide how they should best position themselves, which client(s) they should talk about or which business card to pull out. It certainly takes a bit of practice and you don’t always get it right, but that’s part of the experience in my opinion!
So with this in mind how do you get the most out of being a visitor at a show?
Here are my top tips:
1. Pre- show preparation is fundamental
I spent a significant amount of hours scrutinising the exhibition website , looking at exhibitor profiles and their online presence seeing if they could be a potential fit or opportunity for what I was looking for- and a good couple of weeks before the show started. Furthermore where possible (and it’s not always easy in the Middle Eastern territories!) I sought out fixed meetings with exhibitors so that I could structure my time between those high prospects and other targets who I believed that an impromptu stand visit would suffice. This enabled me to decide which halls to focus on for which days- and with over 4000 exhibitors from all over the world- it needed careful consideration!
2. Quality connections are key
It would have been quite easy for anyone to go around many of the halls and to mindlessly shove business cards and brochures in the hands of all exhibitors in the hope that someone may find what you are offering useful. And it still amazes me the amount of people I see doing this- either by handing over theirs or picking up others from the stand without saying a word to the other party! What better time to build an initial dialogue than at an exhibition? It’s one of the most accepted platforms for everyone to be promoting themselves and businesses so make the most of this! And don’t be afraid to go back to see the same people again if you are keen! Especially if their English isn’t great too as they may struggle to communicate effectively when you are both back home. Therefore the longer you can have fruitful conversations with exhibitors face-to-face the better and it’s far more favourable to come back with say 30 high potential business opportunities than 300 anonymous business cards that mean nothing to you when you are doing the literature sift a few days later.
3. Work some flexibility into your schedule
Whilst fixed meetings are good and allow you dedicated time with whoever you are looking to interact with in the same vein make sure you don’t over book yourself either! There is nothing worse than rushing from one appointment to the other and putting yourself under too much stress- particularly if you overrun on one appointment which has a knock on effect for the rest of the day. Not good turning up late and flustered, particularly if you are trying to sell yourself at the meeting as you won’t be mentally at the top of your game and risk giving a bad first impression. Plus by having some more time to explore the show between meetings then you can often come across some other interesting stands and prospects like I did. It can also give you some innovative stand design ideas, highlight what competitor brands are doing and give you a heads up about where your category and niche is heading in the future.
4. Aim for a first good interaction of the day
I found that if a could start the day with a positive business exchange between an exhibitor and myself then it set the tone for a more confident and enjoyable day. This happened on at least two of the days and I noticed how I bounced from one stand to another with a greater air of confidence and passion on those days than on others when I didn’t perceive that I had done so. The best way is to look for those people on stands who look open to engaging with you and who you have on your ‘hit list’ as targets. Getting a positive response back from them is a great way to push on for a hugely successful day of whatever you are looking to achieve at the show.
I wish everyone plenty of success in any exhibitions you are participating in this year, whether international or not and indeed as much as a visitor than as an exhibitor too!