Many attendees can get overwhelmed with the size and scope of the WBENC Business Fair, which is set to exceed more than 300 exhibits this year. The National Conference & Business Fair is one of the largest gatherings of women-owned businesses in the United States, and each year the Business Fair presents opportunities to connect with Corporate Members and WBEs alike.
In this final installment of our three-part themed NCBF “Let’s Chat” series, we sat down with members of the 2016 Host Committee to learn how to avoid getting worn out by mid-day and approach the Business Fair with a plan. In this chat, we will cover how best to prepare for the Business Fair day, including setting an agenda, using team members if you have them, and how to leverage social media.
Moderated by Laura Berry, Founder and CEO, of Cogberry Creative, LLC, the conversation included Lynn Griffith, President and CEO of Welcome Events and Kathleen Hunt, President of Personalized Payroll Services discussing how they have made the most of Business Fair over the years.
Here is an excerpt of that conversation:
Since both of you have exhibits or have exhibited in the past, what are the biggest tips you can give first-time attendees?
I think what is really important is doing your homework. Visit Corporate Members’ websites and register before you get to Orlando! The first time [at conference] can be very exciting because all these people are there for you, and they're really listening to you. I still get overwhelmed, and my first conference was 10 years ago.
But you know, you get up there and you wait in line, and then their best advice is to have you register on the website. So that is when you get your shot to counter with, “I'm already registered. I just wanted a better idea on how to work that registration.” Then you're already on first base by the time you get through the herd of people who are also trying to talk to that person.
That’s a great comment and right on point. Part of that homework is knowing who you want to talk with prior to the business fair. Look at the layout of the exhibit hall and make a plan not to go to the very front booth first. Instead, go to the companies you want to target that have booths more towards the back of the hall. It's going to be less crowded, and you'll get more of an opportunity to actually connect with the person you want to connect with. Not every big company can be at the front of the hall, and not every company you may want to connect with is going to be at the front of the hall.
Going back to the practical tips, a lot of women will come in, and I know we've heard it before, but newbies need to know: Don't come in your high heels! You're not going to make it through the entire day if you have on a pair of heels that make you look great, but don't make you feel great.
Yes! When you're deciding who you really would like to talk to, I would say zero in on 20 targets. You can't really hit that whole fair. But make sure that you hit the ones you want. They should also be the ones who's website you're already registered on. That advanced preparation I think is crucial. Otherwise, it's overwhelming and then you come out with this bunch of cards showing you where their portal is—but no real connection.
You both have mentioned ways of working around the crowd. What other tips do you have for ensuring you meet the right people—without getting stuck in the “herd”?
I've seen where you go to a Corporate Member booth, like the Office Depot booth or the Coca-Cola booth, and there's a line of people waiting to talk to one key individual. But there are also other people standing around the booth who are part of the company. It's kind of working the aisles, you know? If you have an Office Depot shirt on standing in the booth, I believe you're fair game. Let’s have a conversation!
I do my best networking at cocktail parties and in the aisles of the trade show. It’s less structured, it’s less formal, and you're less concerned with getting through it quickly. There's nobody waiting behind you, you're just casually standing there and waiting for your opportunity and chit chatting to the person who's casually standing right there too.
We already touched on the fact it's a long day and you need to pace yourself, but when you've done that work beforehand and you've setup your route, how do you stand out?
I think it's really important that you stick out. Kathleen, I don't think you’ve ever really met me, but I stick out. I'm very short, and I'm wide. And I use it to my advantage!
A couple years ago, I wrote a book, and I have these really funky cowboy boots, and they're the cover of my book. They're also on my LinkedIn profile and everything because it just became part of my writing retreat. They're my writing boots. But I wore them to the last couple conferences, and they're show stoppers. I feel ridiculous standing with them at my booth, but they were on my book and they were on my feet, and it really starts conversation. When I follow up, it's really easy to say, now Lynn, which one were you? I was the short one with the roses on my cowboy boots. Everybody remembers that.
In my opinion different is good and I think that's an excellent point. I smile because I have a pair of silver cowboy boots I wore in Austin at last year’s conference, and I wore them in Phoenix for Summit & Salute, and I had many comments from attendees who remembered me as “oh, you're the girl with the boots.”
Now I can't wear those boots on the exhibit floor, my feet would die. I do think if people pick a way to stand out, you definitely want it to be memorable, but you don't want it to be unprofessional. You want it as professional as possible at all the functions we attend at conference.
Speaking of etiquette, how can attendees maximize the time when they finally get in front of a decision maker?
If you've done your homework, you know those couple of quick things you want to talk about, and you know how long you've waited in line. Therefore, be courteous. Keep your time with these representatives short and to the point.
You want to stand out in a positive way, not a negative way. If you're there too long, that immediately puts a negative spin on your company, which you don't want. Know your elevator pitch. Be concise and to-the-point. Show them you've done your homework. If you are getting the "glazed-over look" then it's time to move on.
So true. I think what you're saying is “get it done.” Because if you stay too long, you're saying the same thing over and over again. Be aware of the other people there, but I think another really important thing is to read the person that you're talking to. There could be times, there have been times, that they were really interested and I would leave it to them to say, “Let's make an appointment to talk at another time.” But if you're talking to that person and they keep glancing over to the line, then you're done and it’s time to go. I'm agreeing with you, Kathleen, to the point that if they're really engaged and asking you a lot of questions, and then I'll stay as long as I need to get a commitment.
And you're taking cues from their body language, which is really important.
Exactly. They will tell you. It's a little bit more subtle than toe tapping, but they'll tell you when you've been there long enough. Also, you have to be more seller in the afternoon, because they've heard a lot by that time. I would say if you pick 20 that you want to see, you make sure that you get to at least 10 or 12 of them before lunch. Because the afternoon, you can't guarantee anything.
Yet, when people are a bit tired, they’re also a little more relaxed. Sometimes, in the afternoon, I think there could be time to find a personal connection, which helps.
I think finding out a little bit about supplier diversity representatives, whether it is on a personal or a business level is important. What is important to them?
Great point. Do you think people need to remember the personal touch and the relationship building part of this conference?
Yes, my clients are sister WBE's and not Corporate Members. Even though I enjoy getting to know other WBE's, I believe it's important to make a personal connection with our corporate members. Not only do they support us financially, they have families and lives outside of work, just like we do, so take the time to find out what's important to them outside of work.
You also just hit on something that is on the top of all of our minds right now, which is working with other WBEs. Schedule WBE booths into your visits, because there might be an opportunity lurking there, they're going to be a faster turn than the Corporate Member. If I meet a potential WBE supplier, you could be under contract next week maybe. WBE-to-WBE is much different and much quicker.
New WBEs will come to conference not realizing many of the corporate members have existing contracts in place for the services they provide. Remember, being a Tier II or Tier III supplier is a great way to start to work with our corporate members. Large corporate members may be hesitant to use a smaller company because the likelihood is a smaller company may not be able to service their needs on a large scale. Ask how you can become a Tier II or III supplier.