If you were to sum up attendees' attitudes toward many trade show booths in a song title, it would probably be "Walk on By." In fact, according to Nancy Drapeau, director of research at the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, nearly 55 percent of attendees like to walk through the show floor and observe without speaking to the staffers representing exhibiting companies.
But the importance of making a conversational connection with visitors – who might otherwise zip past your booth – can't be overstated. Without that connection interrupting their show-floor sprint, many attendees might not ever stop in your exhibit. Consequently, you have little chance of qualifying them as leads or courting them to become customers.
Part of the solution, according to Dr. Gary Lewandowski, may lie in the lingua franca of singles bars and Tinder: pickup lines. Lewandowski, who has studied pickup lines for their effectiveness in opening a rapport between people, says exhibitors should use lines that are open-ended questions and relevant to the products or services being displayed.
Han Leenhouts, author of "Peppertalk 2.0," a collection of questions to initiate conversations with attendees, agrees. But he believes staffers' opening lines should be tailored to unique situations. So with the help of Leenhouts and a roster of staff training experts, including Susan Brauer of Minneapolis-based Brauer Consulting Group, Barry Siskind of International Training and Management Co., and Anne Trompeter of Live Marketing Inc., here are potential pickup lines perfectly suited to engagements with attendees walking past your booth, watching a presentation, and handling your products.
1. Engaging attendees walking by the booth
The most difficult attendees to corral are the ones zipping past your booth. Inundated by sound, color, and the motion of dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands, of other attendees, they are likely on a mission – even if they have no definitive destination. "This can be tricky because you don't know anything about these attendees yet," Leenhouts says. "I suggest staffers start with open-ended questions, such as 'What's the most exciting thing you've seen at the show?' so attendees have to give answers that are more elaborate than a mere 'yes' or 'no,' thus starting a dialogue."
2. Engaging attendees watching a live presentation, demo, or informational video about your company's offerings
Once attendees are inside the booth, viewing a presentation or demo, exhibitors' objectives should shift from attracting them with attention-getting verbal lures to ones stimulating guests into conversations about the exhibit's content. Siskind proposes staffers look for visitors who express interest or encouraging body language (e.g., nodding their head, leaning in, smiling) during presentations and ask those guests open-ended questions about the product being presented, such as, "What part of the demonstration was most applicable to your needs?" Alternatively, Brauer prefers a closed question along the lines of: "Have you ever used our product or service?" According to her, either answer establishes a baseline that allows the conversation to move forward. "If yes, the staffer can ask them how they use the product or know about it, and then start asking more questions about their company and what they do," Brauer says. "If no, don't launch into a sales pitch. Give a brief overview of your company, and then ask one or two qualifying questions to mold your response to their needs."
3. Engaging attendees handling your product
While attendees handling your physical product may seem identical to those viewing a presentation, this scenario is slightly different: Inspecting your product is a positive action on their part that signals to staffers they're open to a substantive conversation. Somewhat similar to Brauer's approach to attendees who are viewing presentations, Trompeter advocates closed-question openers that supply information, such as "Did you know that this is the only eco-friendly widget on the market?" "The answer should lead to some discussion around what you do," Trompeter says, "and it might even help you qualify the person in some way."