Have you ever tried Bikram yoga? I’ll let you in on a little secret: this is not a relaxed, stretching yoga… It’s 90 minutes of work in 105 degree heat focused on mastering (okay, attempting to master) 32 “poses” and two breathing exercises. You can’t eat for within two hours before you go, you sweat more than you ever have before, and (if you’re doing it right) you feel totally sore for days on end.
So far, I have been doing Bikram yoga for almost a full month (excluding classes missed when traveling for work, etc.) and I’m really enjoying it (even though I’m still not perfect at every “pose”); but, more importantly, the benefits I’m receiving are amazing.
Why am I telling you this? Some exhibitors might say a lot of the same things about trade shows… As such, here are seven lessons first time exhibitors can learn about exhibiting from my Bikram yoga experience:
(1) It’s impossible to be fully prepared for everything.
Even with all of my research (spending more time than I probably should have reading reviews/blog posts, calling with questions, etc.), I went into my first Bikram yoga class without a complete understanding of what I was getting myself into. Most new exhibitors (especially the “type A” planner-types) can relate…
There are promotional videos with clips compiled by the show management, blog posts written by past participants, and discussion groups available for most trade shows; but, regardless of how much research you do, trade shows must be experienced first-hand to truly understand what they’re all about.
Note: More experienced exhibitors may have “been there and done that,” but Murphy’s Law loves trade shows, so deep down, even those exhibitors recognize that they never know what might happen.
(2) Sometimes, just sticking with it (doing as much as you can, even if it’s not a lot, without giving up) is all you can manage in the moment… and that’s okay.
A wide range of feelings isn’t uncommon for new Bikram yoga students, so the instructors offer a simple protocol before the class begins (stay in the room and do what you can). My first time, I got really dizzy and had to sit down for a few poses; but, I didn’t leave the room, I listened to the instructions for the poses I couldn’t do, and, as soon as I started to see straight again, I got right back up to finish out the class. However, during one of my later classes, I did see someone literally run out of the room…
Trade shows can be stressful, scary, overwhelming, and make you feel like you’re going to pass out (especially if you’re too busy to step away for lunch). It’s not ideal but, if just staying in the booth, smiling, and resisting the urge to check your phone every time it vibrates is all you can handle in the last few hours of the last show day, that’s enough. Do your best to get through your first trade show, make a mental note of the challenges you faced, and plan ahead to do better next time. Remember, it does get better.
In case you were wondering, in my second class, I did complete all of the poses (and am proud to say that I haven’t had to miss any others since).
(3) It’s also okay to try something new, not be the best at it right away,
and then keep coming back to get better.
There is a learning curve with Bikram yoga (for example, you’re encouraged not to try certain parts of certain poses until you’ve completed 8-10 classes) and a period of adjustment (not coming back for a second class within 24-48 hours can make your body feel worse than it did when you came into your first class); but, as I mentioned before, it gets better. After learning the sequence, you know what to expect and, after practicing the poses a few times, your body gets more used to them… Just the act of showing up and doing your best every time helps you improve… even if you’re really bad when you start.
Some might say that doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity; but they’re not taking into account the way in which you grow with each time you try. If you aren’t perfect at something, just the act of repeating it may improve your next attempt; but, when your execution doesn’t match your intention, you’ll want to grow faster. Start small and work on performing to your potential first.
Everything happens faster at a trade show so, even if you’re a hot mess when you start, by the time you leave at the end, you will have had an opportunity to grow… as long as you didn’t run out after the first hour of that first show day. Also, applying what you learned in that first trade show (even if it’s just the experience of being there) will help you to improve for your second trade show.
(4) Technique matters.
Just like there is a correct way to do each yoga pose (to obtain the maximum health benefits without hurting yourself), there is a science to business and, although (especially during early start up stages) you can get by doing things your way, they’ll turn out better if you focus on doing things correctly.
Trade shows are a massive expense and the strategy required to succeed is very different from that commonly used in long term sales and marketing efforts so it’s even more important to familiarize yourself with the right techniques. Instead of copying your competition or following the traditions you can’t remember why you started in the first place, study the events industry (or hire the assistance of an expert who has the time to learn the ins and outs for you).
(5) But, that can’t be your excuse to take it easy. You have to stick with it (the right way) and put in a real effort, if you want to see real benefits.
As I mentioned above, in my yoga classes, before moving on to the more advanced parts of each pose, we have to obtain a degree of mastery in the building blocks (how each pose starts) and, although this process requires extra mental focus, the progression won’t happen in a timely manner without physical effort as well.
In trade shows, it’s not enough to step back from execution so you can research best practices and visualize how you might apply them to your future trade show efforts; you have to learn and adjust as you go along. Each iteration will bring improvement (or a better understanding of what doesn’t work) but, in order to make that progress, you have to try. Stepping back, taking things easy, or waiting to implement until you’ve exhausted all of the other options mentally means that you’re wasting time and money (neither of which is acceptable to a growing business) because the execution may not produce the results you expected – you need experience to be able to anticipate your results before certain steps are executed.
(6) Trust your expert; they know what is possible (and the best way for you to accomplish your goals) better than you do.
Speaking of experience… The reason you hire an expert is to benefit from her experience (as it is seen through her uniquely objective perspective) without having to live it yourself.
In my first Bikram yoga class, my instructor would say things like “someday you’ll be able to see your feet, not just your mat or the wall behind you” (bending backwards, I could only kind of see the wall, definitely not my mat, let alone my feet) or, in another pose, “now, if you want to show off your strength, go ahead and bounce a little” (for this one, I was having trouble balancing, so bouncing wasn’t an option). I wanted to laugh at her because I couldn’t see how I would get from where I was to where she described; but, now, I can (in fact, I can see my mat, almost my feet, and bouncing is a breeze so, I’ve learned to accept when she says “someday you’ll be doing a standing split” that it’s a real possibility… even though I can’t do it today).
Your trade show expert provides the same forward thinking to your exhibiting efforts because she can see what is possible for you, beyond what you’ve imagined for yourself; and, more importantly, she’ll be able to tell you what steps you need to take to get from where you are to where you want to be. Take advantage of her experience to accelerate your growth; in other words, you can stop limiting yourself because your expert knows what she is talking about and has your best interests in mind.
(7) Finally, the most productive gift you can give yourself is permission to be present for every moment you’ve allocated to participate.
My instructors describe Savasana (also known as “dead body pose” and repeated throughout the second half of each Bikram yoga class) as “the simplest in form, but the most difficult to master” because it requires complete stillness and inward focus; in order to do this pose properly, you have to let your mind go completely blank. My yoga instructors set rules like “no cell phones” in the hot room and “no talking to each other” during class; but, even after they’ve created the right environment, I have to center myself. With so many responsibilities outside of yoga class, I tend to have a lot on my mind, so I agree that this is one of the most challenging poses – but, for me, it is also the most fulfilling.
When you commit to exhibiting at a trade show, you are committing to take that time away from your other responsibilities. Just like my yoga instructors, your company can make this process easier for your team by adapting similar rules; however, it is each individual participant’s responsibility to follow through on their commitment. This means, before you leave, you’ll need to make accommodations so that you can focus your full attention on exhibiting – review expectations with your family, enlist your team to support top clients/prospects in your absence, and maintain your health (sleeping well, eating right, etc.). By shutting out distractions (whether they’re in your mind or physically present) from the moment you leave for the convention city until the moment you return to your office, without excuses, you are enabling yourself to do your best. This is important because your effort in the convention city determines your company’s success; if you want to maximize your success, you have to maximize your focused effort.
Give yourself this gift (permission to be fully present for every moment of your trade show) without guilt or worry… You only get one first exhibiting experience, allow yourself to enjoy it for what it is.