So you say you have a staff member (or two) who just isn’t that interested “booth duty” – what should you do about this?
First of all, stop calling it “booth duty” (it sounds silly and tells your team that trade shows are an activity they are obligated to do, not something they’d enjoy). But, seriously, when your team is struggling with disinterest, you need to exude positive energy to help them improve their mindset. Whether or not you believe in the “power of positive thinking,” you can certainly appreciate that you do have an impact on how the opportunity of working in your trade show booth is framed. Using words like “get to” (instead of “have to”), “opportunity” (instead of “obligation”), and “awesome” (instead of “stressful”) will subtly reinforce a positive expectation.
Work with your underperforming staff members individually to understand why they appear to be uninterested in participating (until you ask, you never know, they might be very interested but unaware that there is an issue with their behavior/attitude). Once you have had a discussion about your perception of the situation and any relevant reasoning for their actions, you can work together to find a better solution. In most cases, the underlying issue (after you get past “I just don’t want to”) is relatively easy to resolve…
Here are three suggestions to help you face the most common underlying issues:
(1) Explain why you are exhibiting (your company’s goals) and highlight the benefits available to each staff member as a direct result of their performance on-site.
Having a common focus helps to bring your team together and provides you with a basis for any constructive criticism necessary to encourage your staff to improve their performance. In order to motivate your staff to go above and beyond, however, it is important for each staff member to recognize the specific ways in which their performance affects them personally.
For example, if your company is exhibiting to obtain a volume of quality leads, you can unify your team around this common goal (explaining that by obtaining more quality leads, your company will increase their opportunities to close sales and become more profitable). To encourage your sales staff, in this case, you’d say that exhibiting helps them personally because it reduces their time spent on less enjoyable forms of prospecting (like cold calling) while still filling their sales funnel and progresses existing prospects through the sales process more quickly and easily (reducing the time they’d otherwise spend on the road, playing phone tag, and coordinating follow up meetings). Continue this exercise for the other segments of your team according to your specific goals and their corresponding benefits.
(2) Offer training to improve each staff member’s company knowledge and exhibiting skills.
Most professionals perform poorly and may even shut down when they feel unprepared or uneducated, but your team may not realize or won’t admit that this could be an issue for their performance at your next trade show (especially when these feelings are about details and actions they think others would expect them to know without assistance). It is your responsibility to equip your team to do their best work so that they are confident as they represent your company on-site.
Your pre-show training should refresh your team’s memory as to your company information (history, offerings, audience, competitors, industry basics, etc) and their social skills (greeting and engaging attendees, qualifying leads, making introductions, etc). Very few professionals (if any) are accustomed to representing your company in an exhibiting environment full time; as such, these reminders are crucial. In fact, if you are like most exhibitors, your pre-show training should be more intensive than you think is necessary to ensure that all team members are properly prepared.
(3) Consider staff groupings carefully to remove (or, at least, dilute) negative influences and ensure the presence of positive role models for the duration of your event.
When assigning participation times, it is important to not only consider your team’s external meeting schedules, but also pay attention to how well they work with others… specifically, any other team members who would be assigned to man the booth at the same time.
As you start organizing your booth schedule, categorize your staff members according to their typical performance (from excellent to not so good), areas/level of expertise, and dominant personality traits. Create a balance between loud and soft spoken staffers, those who exhibit patience, compassion, and/or determination with the less enthusiastic, distracted, and/or volatile staffers, as well as those holding particular roles (sales staff, executives, technical experts, etc) to ensure a consistent experience for your guests. At the very least, schedule at least one professional who can serve as a positive influence to your other booth staff in each available time slot.
Finally, if you have tried all of these suggestions and still can’t sway your stubborn staff members to at least act as though they are interested and perform accordingly, don’t force it. Having someone who is unengaged, unmotivated, and unenthusiastic in your booth will hurt your reputation more that it could help. Exhibiting isn’t always easy and it’s not for everyone, so if you can’t make it work, consider hiring external assistance, selecting a different team member to fill in (and enjoy the benefits that come with that honor), or not exhibiting at all instead of fighting with reluctant booth staff.