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How Do You Approach Small Talk at Trade Shows & Get Results?

11 Jun 2019

It’s going to happen sooner or later at a trade show – you’re going to meet a complete stranger at the event and you’re going to have to engage in small talk. There are few things most people hate more than having to talk to a complete strange without a clear agenda. It ranks very close with the fear of public speaking, but here’s the thing. Small talk is built into the DNA of any trade show or convention. You’re in this professional space to grow your network and small talk can’t be avoided completely. If you’re really committed to turn your brand into the talk of the conference or show, you’ll be caught in small talk from early in the morning until the end of the day.

Accept it. All right? Now that you know it’s unavoidable, it’s time to move towards how to always succeed at small talk and lead into a sales pitch, and ideally into a sales conversation. It’s a fairly natural transition, if you know what you’re doing. Here is what we have discovered to work best:

You don’t want to start talking about your product and you don’t want to talk only about the product in the first place.

Yes, trade shows are designed for you to sell and it’s the reason you’re there. In your head, that’s the best starter topic since it’s thematically linked to why you and your conversation partner have made the trip. But stop yourself and think – would like to hear a sales pitch as soon as you meet a new person? There’s a reason why we skip commercials when watching television or install ad blockers to get rid of advertisement in YouTube and other websites. You don’t want to be the real life equivalent of a pop-up ad. Introduce yourself and have a chat about just about anything else. If the conversation gets going, the subject of what you will come up. Trust in that.

Practice the art of active listening and you’ll be very well liked and memorable.

Every single person wants to be really heard and want someone to give them their full, undivided attention. This doesn’t happen very often, because most conversations quickly turn into a race for people to talk over each other. The best way to succeed is to practice active listening – this is a type of listening, where you fully commit yourself to a conversation. You need to stop thinking about anything else (it’s easy to find yourself wandering in your mind) or to prepare an answer to what the other person is saying (this is incredibly common and we do it all the time). What’s key to active listening is to be present and really hear what a person is saying. This is where you’ll find the so-called “emotional bids” – these are nuggets in the conversation that serve as tiny hooks that if you catch, fuel the conversation and create a real connection.

Do not look at your phone at all costs!

Having your phone in your hand and glancing at the screen, when you’re having a conversation is the fastest way you can lose a person’s interest. It’s a show of disrespect and dismissal that cools off any good will towards, and the problem is that it’s become too common. We’re addicted to our phones and gadgets (this applies to anything smart and connected), and we really have to build a resistance to such behaviour. Why should anyone pay attention to your sales pitch and wish to be your client, when you haven’t bother to value their time by looking at your phone earlier? Would you wish to work with someone, when you feel like they’re not listening to anything you have to say.

Ask the right kind of questions, but don’t overdo it!

Don’t know how to make conversations last and how to deepen small talk into a rich conversation? Pay attention to the questions you ask – what and when and other types of closed questions get a short, clipped answer. You don’t want to ask a question and then receive a one-word response. It will only make you ask more of the same questions, and then the other person will feel like they’re being interrogated. It’s not fun. Instead, ask open ended questions – why or how questions. Give your conversation partner a cue to tell a story and later once they’re done give a compliment or add something on the topic. Not only will they feel heard, but you’ll also break the pattern of ask a question, get an answer and so forth.

The sales pitch has to be tailored to the individual!

The biggest benefit to leaving the sales pitch and your company to later in the conversation is that you are able to gain more information about the person. Are they a suitable prospect buyer? Can they be useful in any other capacity either as a contact or a collaborator? This gives you the chance to think about how to best phrase what you do and how your product or service can be of use. The main focus should fall on how you can help. Identify a need or a problem and then use that as an entry point to present your company and interest them to either come to your booth or schedule a business meeting later on. This is also the perfect moment to exchange business cards and other information.

There’s more to be said about the finer points in how to present yourself, but these are the basic foundations on how to transform undesirable small talk into a useful tool to represent your brand in a better light. Also, when you approach conversations with curiosity and the motivation to learn more about the industry and its players, you’ll come to like small talk and not stress over how to do it best. Practice these techniques one by one and things will happen naturally on their own.


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