Contractor’s Corner: Make it count with networking, trade shows and presentations - March 2023
By Dave Stafford
Whether you are attending, exhibiting or presenting at a trade show or another work-related event, key to building a lucrative experience is networking. When capitalized upon, networking can build your reputation, but if the money and time at these events are not well spent due to a lack of planning or training, these opportunities can easily be a miss.
SELECTING YOUR TARGETS
Networking strategies that pay off can be adapted, whether it’s an organized trade show, luncheon meeting, golf outing, association function or educational seminar. There is a cost with each and a limit to how much time one can spend using them to promote their business. Pick carefully.
Look at the class of people attending. Are most from local companies? Are they decision-makers or lower-level managers? For instance, a Rotary Club typically features top-level executives, whereas a local property management association may have a low percentage of executives and a high percentage of vendors. This type of information is always available from the event organizers, albeit given out grudgingly. Perhaps you should join the group as a member and attend some meetings. A single contact of the right type can result in significant business.
I once met a new contact who, after several drinks at a cocktail party, shared his frustration over finding a qualified contractor able to do small repair work. I gave him my card and suggested he give us a try. My follow-up several days later produced an appointment and an order for several small jobs. After the “trial run,” we ended up with a contract to do all of his work at several locations. It was over $100,000 in profitable business; plus, we got referrals from it.
Arrive about ten minutes before the start of a cocktail party or “mixer.” Take plenty of business cards. You should also have your own custom-made company name tag with your name, company name and logo, rather than depend on one of the infamous paper name tags that either come off or are unreadable. Your name tag should be worn on your right side just below the level of your shoulder.
Don’t eat at the event; you want to have a hand free to shake others’. Introduce yourself by name and company. Get their card and give them yours. Circulate and be interesting but don’t spend more than three to five minutes with any one person. Your goal is to meet as many people as possible. While it may help to meet other vendors, avoid being monopolized and having your time wasted.
Ask questions about each potential’s business and specialty, briefly describe your business but do not make a long sales pitch. Use your elevator speech! Should you have someone who wants to tell you their life history, be inventive with your exit, such as a phone message that must be returned.
Within a couple of days, jot notes, send an email or make a phone call to the contacts you made. Mention the event where you met them and get an appointment. If a viable prospect with potential, send a company brochure with a brief handwritten note.
For large, crowded trade shows, you may want to start at the end and work toward the beginning areas. “Walk the show” so as to gauge your degree of interest and where your time can be best spent. Walk quickly and don’t make eye contact with booth personnel unless you are interested. If you are, get a card and jot down the booth number so you can return later. Make an appointment for a meeting, if appropriate. Be wary of taking giveaways; remember, you’ll have to carry them. If you are “tackled” (where you have not made the first contact), politely let them know you either don’t use their product or are not interested.
HOSTING A SUCCESSFUL EXHIBIT
When you are planning on exhibiting, here are some key questions and answers from my own experience. I’ve worked trade shows of all types, some with dismal results and others where attendees were high caliber decision-makers.
Is this a local show lasting three to four hours, a regional show requiring a full day, or a high-profile, three- to four-day show attracting national attention and attendees? With a local or regional show, beyond the expense of a simple booth, most of the cost will be in the human resources required to work the booth.
In a national show, there will usually be a booth space cost, and the location within the show footprint is critical. Study the show layout carefully, then negotiate with the promoter for a desirable spot that will allow visibility from two aisles, near but not beside competitors. Pricing will vary widely. Also, the booth will have to be more elaborate, one that will likely have to be shipped in, and a higher number of qualified personnel will have to attend. With a three-day show, allow one day for travel before and after for setup and breakdown of the booth. This can get expensive! When you factor in personnel cost, booth cost, show fees, travel and lodging, you may spend perhaps $1,000 to $2,000 a day or more. Do you see a return on your investment through contacts made, exposure and sales potential? A high-class regional show may be the most cost effective for a short-term payback.
Details that will determine your success include the following:
• What do you hope to accomplish?
• Can you easily comply with the trade show requirements?
• Who will work the show booth?
• What can you do to attract attention?
• When people stop to see you, how will you handle them?
• What should you expect from the booth visitor?
Preparing your personnel to work a booth at a trade show involves some or all of the following:
• What to expect and how to respond to booth visitors
• Practicing the elevator speech until it can be given flawlessly
• Dressing for a coordinated look, wearing comfortable shoes
• Likely questions to be asked and how to answer
• A handoff routine for a hot prospect requiring timely follow-up
• A ban on eating and drinking anything other than water
• A reminder that working a booth not a free trip
• Instructions to not offer giveaways without business cards
• Maintaining the integrity of the booth and keeping it clean
• Assigning a manager to follow up on leads
Within your booth, here are a few guidelines:
• A picture is worth a thousand words for display
• Offer giveaways to gain traffic and get business cards
• Provide free samples and “show specials” if appropriate
• Focus on traffic passing your booth but don’t tackle them
• Get info from those stopping and use an “elevator speech”
• Spend no more than five minutes with a prospect
• Schedule a subsequent appointment with a “hot prospect”
• Limit shifts in the booth to three hours
• No chairs unless you are selling furniture
• Have bottles of water and breath mints
• No alcoholic beverages until after the show
Spot check booth personnel’s performance by having one or more company personnel or trusted associates grade them. Is their behavior welcoming or a turnoff? Are they presenting the company properly or with an air of boredom? Is the booth setup being maintained? If not, is it the fault of personnel or the design of the booth-too flimsy, too many intricate pieces or parts that keep coming apart?
I’ve had some real disasters with booths falling apart, support tables that were too fragile, fasteners that couldn’t bear the weight of displays, and haphazard booth lighting. The right type of professional “pop-up-booth” with signage can cost $2,000 to $5,000, or more. Spend a little more for higher quality, since your company will be judged by it.
CRAFTING A SUCCESSFUL PRESENTATION
You may be given an opportunity for a featured presentation that will highlight your special expertise. If so, this will mean extra publicity for you and the company. When making presentations, most will use some version of PowerPoint or the equivalent with a projector and a laptop with a wireless remote controller. Always have a printed copy of your complete, final presentation and have a backup copy on a USB drive in case your computer crashes.
When designing a presentation, use a stock layout template. For background, a rich royal blue with white, yellow or gold text is easily seen. Another highly visible scheme is bright gold with text in black, green or blue. Pictures, graphics or animation should be used in context and to make an important point, rather than for decoration. Don’t overuse animation of text or graphics; it becomes quite irritating when every block of text or photo comes spiraling in or zooming across the slide.
Use slides as cues and for reinforcement, not as a complete script! The title of the slide and/or bullet points should cue the audience to what’s coming from the speaker. One of the most boring presentations is when the speaker seems compelled to read every word on the slide. The reason for visuals is to reinforce. It is estimated we will retain only 25% of what we see but 60% of what we see and hear. In planning, use some funny graphics and insert them at key break points. If done right, this will keep people awake and alert.
Beware of using too few or too many slides. My rule of thumb was a slide every 45 to 60 seconds, so a 45-minute presentation would entail 50 to 60 slides. Fewer slides may mean the audience becomes bored; if more, you may confuse attendees or give them whiplash from viewing.
When in doubt, use a larger text on the slide and break the information into two slides. Aside from the speaker who reads every word, one of the worst presentations I’ve seen was one with a low-contrast background, text so small I strained to read it, and a mass of text jammed into one slide without proper spacing. I struggled to follow the concept presented.
There is no substitute for knowing your material and practicing your presentation. Use the visuals to let your audience know what to expect, tell them clearly, provide a summary and then a wrap-up with what you want them to do.
The reality is that it’s tough to measure the success of networking and attendance at trade shows or presentations except over a long period of time. A company must be at the stage in its corporate life where it can afford the expense of a booth and have the personnel to use this type of promotion. Are you there yet? Perhaps start with some local or regional events that make sense. Attend some trade shows and see what works for others. Ask around and decide what you can afford to spend. It may be one of the best decisions you’ll make this year.
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