Trade shows and conferences are time-honored business events that are presently experiencing significant challenges. In this tight economy, attendance at many events is down, and some are questioning whether we should reinvent the format, or even if we should have them at all.
The forces of social media are shining a light on how adults want to learn. We want to be engaged. We want to be involved, and we want to participate in the creation of solutions that affect our businesses. This means we need trade shows and conferences, but certainly with more emphasis on interaction that gives attendees, vendors, and and presenters alike an equal voice.
For the early arrivals, the GIE/GIC – The Green Industry Expo and Conference is already underway. I have been attending this event since 1995 when I was building my practice as a green industry professional. Now that I am a speaker at events like this, I have a new perspective. I am here to learn like anyone else, yet I am also charged with ensuring that learning takes place. You can bet I have considered how to engage you, the audience, into my presentations. Stop on by and we’ll give it a try.
Hollywood likes to characterize the conference attendee as a disheveled businessmen who is clueless about his local surroundings. This is usually typified by the guy who is out on the town trying to look cool to score a date while being completely unaware he is still wearing his nametag. I believe that stereotype is behind us, especially in this economy. The one thing we are all trying to score is new business.
I have a few suggestions on how you can do this better, and given my area of specialty, you should not be surprised that I am drawing some insights from the social media networks. Lets look at how you can maximize your ability to score a return on your conference investment by maximizing your social engagement.
Being human is the first step with social media effectiveness, because it mirrors what works in real life situations. Regardless of your role or objective at trade shows and conferences, you now know your goal is to engage with people, and being human is the best approach for accomplishing this. Learn what is going on in the lives of your customers and peers. Find out how the family is doing. I’m sure you’ve noticed this with the true professionals – the class acts that everyone respects. They aren’t showboating about their latest success, they are just being human. And we remember them for that.
When you meet someone new, get to know them first before you offer up your freshly printed business cards. Walking up to someone and eagerly pushing your business card into their hands is the same as subscribing everyone to your eZine list without their permission. This is interruption marketing. Try permission marketing.
Permission marketing is engaging with people on a personal level first, so that you earn the right to present your business card or brochure. Make this a personal challenge. Don’t be the first to bring up business. Then when you are asked for your card, show it with pride. You just scored. Better than making just a business connection, you also made a friend you can build a relationship with. This is exactly how it works on the social networks – friends first.
Social media is much more than broadcasting your message. You want to create a dialogue so that everyone can learn more and make better decisions. Since we know the social networks are great for this, you will want to improve the effectiveness of your business cards by incorporating your social media addresses. My new card is posted on my blog if you need an example to get started with. For my latest order, I used overnightprints.com – they did a great job, delivered quickly, and the price was very fair.
Travel light to avoid looking like a tourist, even though we all are visitors at these events. You have to resist the temptation to load up on all of the junk that everyone else is packing. Carry a light load so you can be ready to easily shake hands, lend someone a hand with their load, especially an association staff member, or take in an impromptu dinner without having to make a trip to the hotel to drop off your ‘luggage.’
These are lean times my friends. Maybe you are enjoying a great year and want to tell everyone about it. Resist the temptation. In most cases, you will remembered more by the way you handle your interactions. This is something social media teaches us. Be a giver first and foremost, and be prepared to add value to every relationship you have. Just let the opportunities unfold on their own time.
For those of you who like lists, you will probably like this one.
Prepare – Jot down one thing you want to discuss with those people you hope to connect with so you can naturally do a little business if the opportunity presents itself. If you have been networking well with social media, this will be a natural transition for taking that virtual conversation offline to get some business accomplished.
Be Visible – Use Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to broadcast the sessions you plan to attend so your peers can keep an eye out for you. Pressed for time? Use sites like http://hootsuite.com to schedule your Tweets in advance. I like to do this to Tweet during my presentation, when in fact I’ve actually scheduled them days prior.
Share – Use social media to highlight the good works of others. Did you notice a new product at the show that is helpful for you business? Spread the word. Just attended a great presentation? Let others know so they can get the handouts before they are gone.
Engage – Bring your camera or Flip Mino camcorder to shoot a video that captures the excitement and action. It’s a great way to capture the energy of the event on your blog when you get back home.
Be Green – Take what you need. I used to pick up the little promotional do-dads when my kids were younger. Now that they are in college, or soon will be, there is no need for me to bring trinkets home that I am just going to toss out.
Visualize – Who is the special person you are hoping to connect with, that recognized expert? Jot their name down in your trip folder with some ideas to share – this is a visualization exercise – and it works. Don’t be surprised when they walk around the corner and you are prepared with just the right thing to say. You scored again!
Remember, luck is simply opportunity meeting preparedness. Help it along with some new media strategies and it will.
Finally, if you care to see a live video I made on this topic, which for some may better capture this message, you can watch it by clicking here.