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The Trade Show Must Go On

Make lasting business connections on the road

Mary Margaret Hogan
Mary Margaret Hogan
Trade Show Must Go On

As we enter the New Year, it’s a great time to consider the question: How can I capture new audiences and expand my business? If you’re struggling to increase engagement and sales from your existing marketing database, the answer probably lies beyond the four walls of the office. It’s time to add mortgage shows to your 2023 calendar.

Despite its profitability, the pace of a traveling salesperson may not be a natural fit for everyone. Traveling can be arduous, the schedule of the trade show itself can be overwhelming and being away from the office sometimes may even feel counterintuitive. To make the most of traveling, one must step out of their comfort zone and be prepared to network as they’ve never networked before.

 Whether you’re a regular trade show pro or just starting to iron out the details of your first trip, there are quite a few small adjustments one can make to gain the business and attention of tradeshow attendees. Let’s explore the best way to build connections on the floor and make the trade show worth your while.

Body Language Adjustment

You’ve registered for the show, checked into your hotel, and now find yourself in the middle of a jam-packed conference floor; what’s next?

It starts with an adjustment as simple as body language. Though it may sound trite, you will often see people hiding behind their devices, sitting down, and avoiding eye contact with the general audience passing through the trade show floor. Sure, it is not frowned upon, but it isn’t the most efficient way to start a conversation. Depending on if you’re a vendor at a booth or the average attendee, these adjustments in body language will look a bit different but are crucial to catching the eyes of potential leads.

As a vendor, the key to driving traffic your way lies in the art of making your booth a welcoming space. Experiment with moving your table and booth features to the side and taking a few steps forward; apply the open-concept design trend to your booth setup. Not only will this give the team more room to breathe and display their swag and paper materials, but it will encourage attendees to break the fourth wall physically and conversationally.

Without the full set up and materials behind you, how can you embody the most welcoming, ready-to-chat version of yourself? Take the time to walk through the center of the conference and see what works for you. As an attendee, you too should follow the open-concept approach. This can range from adjusting your posture and walking with intention, putting the devices away to make eye contact, and going out of your way to start a conversation. As more people gravitate towards you, it’s important to take note; these are the modifications that need to be made.

Common Misconception

Although these are elementary solutions, they can be intimidating adjustments. Now, in clear view of the audience traffic, you will have no choice but to be a social butterfly and at that, a social butterfly who really knows their stuff. At first, it’s a vulnerable position; however, taking the leap forward is crucial to cultivating connections.

You’ve opened yourself up, and people are coming your way, ready to chat, so now what?

A common misconception about creating conversation with people on the trade show floor derives from what may seem to be the most second-nature element; how to start it. Beyond the quick “Hello, my name is … ” introduction, how does one draw in the interest and attention of the average attendee? Many folks will have their elevator pitch and numbers ready to go at any given moment. However, the best way to make a lasting business relationship doesn’t have to do with business at all. In fact, a hard sales pitch right off the bat can steer people away. Many of these guests spend their days answering emails and calls between informative speaking sessions and crave a moment of levity rather than another course about the industry. That’s where you come in.

How can you be that source of levity and get their business? It’s all about paying attention to details and finding commonalities.

Finding something in common with a stranger beyond the known fact that you’re in the same industry can be quite a challenge, so paying attention to the minute details about the person before you is imperative. For example, it’s extremely common for folks to highlight their hobbies and interests on objects as obvious as a lapel, a design on their bag, or even their phone case.

A Longhorns lapel: “I see your lapel. Are you from Texas?”

A Mickey Mouse tote: “I love that bag. Do you go to Disney World often?”

A dog on their phone case: “Now, that’s a cute dog. Are they yours?”

If the person before you shows no telltale signs of their interests, it’s time to break out the golden question: “Where are you from?” This question opens a whole new level of conversational possibilities because it can tell you so much about the person in front of you: their sports teams, their weather, and the major monuments around them. Or, if you don’t know much about that area — ask them about it! What would they recommend you do the next time to visit? Where can you get a good burger? Not to mention, as you continue to travel, you’ll learn more landmarks to reference. From speakeasies in Vegas to the terrific restaurants in Miami, keeping these notable places in mind are perfect conversation pieces for the fellow traveling salesperson.

These small but impactful instances of paying attention will not only get the conversation flowing but will display that you are thoughtful and attentive — two qualities that are invaluable in a business connection. No matter what the subject, it should feel organic coming from you. If you’re enjoying the banter, chances are they’re enjoying it as well.

Attendance Intentions

Paying attention can also be a method of stepping into another person’s shoes (which can be quite painful, especially if you’ve been on the trade show floor all day). As you’re navigating the conversation, it’s important to ultimately arrive at their intention for attending the conference. How can we, two people who have formed this new and exciting connection, help each other out in this industry? Even if it is discovered that there’s not much either of you could do to help each other at this moment, there’s always potential for the future; even if it’s just being a friendly, familiar face at the next show you both attend.

If handled properly, attending trade shows can be transformed into some of your business’s most valuable work hours. Meeting potential clients face-to-face has a proven history of cultivating and retaining long-term professional relationships and should be made a priority. The more shows you attend, the more comfortable you will become meeting people at this uniquely sporadic trade show rate. No two people are exactly alike, but as you navigate the world of networking at trade shows, you will only get better at identifying the perfect opening line and converting conversations into business.

People may not always remember your products and pitches, but they will certainly remember that you went out of your way to make a connection with them.

This article was originally published in the Mortgage Women Magazine January 2023 issue.
Mary Margaret Hogan
Mary Margaret Hogan,
Mary Margaret Hogan

Mary Margaret Hogan is a marketing associate at RCN Capital.

Published on
Jan 27, 2023
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