The railway company that controls our village train station have decided they are planning to reduce the hours that our station is manned. I suspect this is a slippery slope and a precursor to removing all human interaction and replacing Mr A with a ticket machine. In fact I heard that a ‘survey’ was done amongst passengers about the said machine and just like the cat food advert, they said they preferred it – allegedly. My quick survey suggested that none of the regular commuters were consulted and so I felt it worthwhile to raise a petition to retain Mr A and not rely solely on the machine and see whether the alleged survey would be replicated. In two hours we had over 200 signatures in favour of Mr A – in fact the only passenger to decline was an American tourist.

I recruited a few members of my immediate family to help with the petition, a ten year old, one of twelve and a fifteen year old as well as my wife. It was very interesting to watch the interaction between my kids and the commuters. The youngest two had no hesitation in asking for signatures, approached passengers directly and asked whether they would like to support the cause. They filled their sheets first. The eldest was knocked back by the tourist and was subsequently hesitant about further approaches. Whilst the main concern of the young ones was when their next hot chocolate break would be, and who had the most signed up, the oldest made comments about how ‘scary’ some passengers looked and other reasons why she hadn’t approached certain commuters.

Their behaviour reminded me of stand staff who are charged with approaching visitors in a hall. If you approach a visitor and engage them directly, expecting them to chat with you it is likely you will have some success. Likewise if you are ‘competing’ with your colleagues about how many leads you have captured it is also likely you will all have some success. If however, you are worried about whether they will engage with you or how scary they look, it is likely your success levels will be restricted. I suspect also that those who are resistant to rejection will not accumulate their negative experiences and shrug them off as a part of the role whereas those who are more sensitive will collect them and will be hampered by those experiences. As with sales people, if you expect the customer to reject your offer before you make it, your conversion rate will be minimal.

The thing that helps I believe, is the realisation that most visitors are at the event because they choose to be there and as a result you should feel no hesitation in approaching them – courteously and professionally naturally, but feel no compunction in engaging them. If your demeanour is almost apologetic you are handicapped before you even open your mouth. We have recently launched a series of programmes about successful networking. The rules and etiquette and general do’s and don’ts. The parallel exists here too. If you look at any ‘function’ where networking is the main purpose (or at least the glaring opportunity) observing people and their behaviour is very revealing. Some people are terrified of the whole thing and frantically look about for a friendly face to join. Then once they have breathed a sigh of relief and recognition monopolise that person for the duration. Their more successful colleagues flit from group to group mingling and networking effectively. Sure some of the interactions are non-productive and others may be tenuous, but they persist and keep doing what they should as they know in amongst the room full of people they may uncover a lead or gain some useful snippets.

I suspect good social networkers are the perfect beast to populate your stand with at your next event. They realise the value of engagement and their results support their belief and behaviour. If however, your stand personnel are nervous and looking for the friendly face of an existing client and then monopolise them they are either missing out on new business which may be the main focus of your participation at the event or of spending time with other clients who may wish to buy.