See that chap standing at the back of the team photo, above, with the light bouncing off his shiny, bald head? He looks confident, prepared and happy to be representing his organization among the movers and shakers in his industry.
But the camera is lying – there's no confidence there. That's me, with the rest of the Mind Tools team, waiting for the doors to open at the 2017 Learning Technologies exhibition in London. It's Europe's leading annual L&D event, and showcases the latest in organizational learning, and the technology that supports it.
I wasn't mentally rehearsing how I'd introduce Mind Tools to visitors attending the event. The only thoughts in my head were, "Don't embarrass the firm today!" and, "I should have shaved. People don't trust blokes with beards!"
When you're comfortable with a background role at work, actually representing your organization – being one of its public faces at an important industry event – can be daunting. My default response was to find reasons why someone else would be more qualified for the task. But each increasingly desperate excuse was shot down by the exhibition team leader:
What I should have done was to look at the positives: if the company didn't think I was up to it, they wouldn't have asked; it would be an opportunity to meet existing and potential customers in person; I'd get a first-hand look at the state of the industry; I'd see how we compared with our competitors; importantly, I'd get to know my colleagues from other teams a lot better; and hey, it'd be two days out of the office in a swanky London hotel on the company tab!
As it turned out, all of the positive aspects came to pass. After an initial phase of adopting the health workers' mantra of "first, do no harm" and trying to toe a company line that didn't really exist, I relaxed and grew increasingly comfortable with meeting and greeting the great and the good of L&D.
It turns out they weren't all on a personal mission to catch me out or to demand our product for next to nothing. They were ordinary people looking to enhance their own learning experience, or that of their people. Who'd have thought it?
Also, as well as being a valuable personal experience, one that will help me to do my job better by learning what people want from Mind Tools, there were other fringe benefits. When your working day is spent glued to a keyboard, it was hugely satisfying to hear people say how much they enjoyed using our articles, and how our resources had benefited their careers. Also, at an event like this, a quick sweep of the other exhibitors' stands harvested me enough free pens, mouse mats, notebooks, and cell phone rests to see me through to retirement!
It's for the "bean counters" to determine the value to the company of attending such events – monetary or otherwise – but my personal ROI in many areas was very healthily in the black.
What have you learned from representing your organization at a conference or trade event? Share your thoughts in the box, below.
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I can safely say, that even as a Salesperson within a company, being presented with 1000's of potential new contacts and clients in an environment like a trade show can be hugely intimidating. I spend a vast majority of my time speaking with people over the phone and via email so being put in front of people in such a busy, loud and intense environment is both exciting and terrifying in the same measure.
What I did learn very quickly however, was that it is in no way productive to barrel in telling each and every person who stopped by what, how and why you do what you do (which is your instinctive first response) but to find out why they are there, how they are looking to meet their needs and why they are approaching things in that way. You can then marry up your products/services features and benefits with these needs, and if you can't find a fit for your product, at least you have just gathered some vital information about how your potential clients think and are approaching particular struggles.
The sale is just a signature on a piece of paper, everything else is just a conversation, remember that and you will be golden!
Thanks Dean for sharing your experiences and reminding us that a sale really all starts with a conversation with another person!
Great article Keith Jackson, thanks for sharing your insights and photos!
What I have learnt from representing my organization at a conference is exactly in line with what Dean and yourself have experienced, which is the art of the conversation.
Whether you're selling goods or providing services, this type of face to face opportunity allows you to connect with your network on a substantially deeper level, especially when done comfortably and its not forced.
I've found that after that kind of interaction, your network is not only broadened but the communication across the distance becomes easier in that things get accomplished more steadily!
Thanks Karlene for sharing your experiences. I agree with you that communication does become easier once you have actually met someone face to face!
I relate to what Keith Jackson wrote. When I was younger I was painfully shy. I learned a very valuable lesson from a seminar I once attended: take the focus off yourself. Simply focus on the person standing in front of you with the mindset, "How I can best help this person or how can I best make this person feel comfortable?" It works.
Great lesson to learn Rebel. When we actually stop worrying and focusing on ourselves and instead focus on the other person, the exchange can flow so much more easily! I like the idea of the thought 'how can I make this person feel comfortable?' ... certainly could help shift your approach to the discussion.