This month I intend focusing on an aspect of exhibiting behaviour that often goes largely unnoticed and yet can have such a significant effect upon your success at a show. Consider if you will a retail example, one we have probably all at some point experienced first hand. What is it about a queue outside a shop that makes you feel compelled to join it also? It’s probably connected with not wanting to miss out on something. The opposite effect happens with an empty shop. Imagine walking into a shop that is devoid of customers and the side walls are lined with eager, hovering sales assistants. Rather than relish the thought that you could get lots of personal attention all to yourself, you are more likely to perform an about-face and wander into a neighbouring shop instead. The exact same syndrome is paralleled in the exhibition hall. Busy stands appear to attract more visitors than quiet or empty stands. Worse still are quiet or empty stands populated with lots of staring and hovering stand personnel.

There is however a big proviso; there is a huge difference between being busy and being ‘engaged’ or occupied. The positive one is the sort of busy we want to encourage whereas engaged or occupied sends out signals that we are unavailable or otherwise unapproachable. Engaged suggests that we would rather be indulging in the activity in question than be interacting with visitors. Examples of occupied could include using a mobile or laptop, reading a newspaper, eating a sandwich or having a ‘meeting’ with a colleague on the same stand. All these activities suggest that an interruption would be unwelcome. There is also the aspect that the visitor may empathetically decide not to interrupt your lunch beak or meting and call back later. The problem, as we all know, is that either the visitor doesn’t make it back to your stand or they get intercepted by a competitor en route.

What we do need to do therefore is to find activities that signal approachable behaviour, such as re-stocking literature racks or useful housekeeping activities. These activities appear inconsequential (or even a relief) if interrupted and so visitors know that it is OK to interact. A good tip which works for me is to invite friends onto your stand and make it clear to them that you will beak off at any time if a bona fide visitor walks onto your stand. It doesn’t have to be friends – you can also be radical and try inviting tame existing clients onto your stand. As long as they realise that you will temporarily leave them to tend to the needs of a visitor should it happen then most are fine with this. The next time you are at a show, have a good look at the stand around you and watch for examples of approachable and engaged – you will recognise the symptoms immediately.