San Francisco, CA- On April 10, 2019, I placed second in the Toastmasters Division A International Speech Competition with my inspirational speech, “Failure in not an Option.” The winner, Aaron Samson, went on to compete for the designation of World Champion of Public Speaking, the highest public speaking award in the world. On June 6, 2019, I reprised my speech by request for Slalom Toastmasters in Palo Alto, CA.
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Las Vegas, NV- The Dell Technologies World Conference was originally focused completely on storage, but these days this conference has broadened slightly to include many more aspects of the IT landscape.
On the show floor, booths are hard pressed to compare to the massive engagement expenditure put out by the conference itself. From caricature artists, to rescue dog petting stations, to a giant e-sports arena, its enough to make a Events Marketing Manager just give up.
And did I mention the non-stop food, coffee and booze? Its tough to even recognize the Sands Expo floor with this conference’s black ceiling and uplighting- dare I say… theatrical? Theatrical or not, in this edition of my ongoing series of post-show tactical analyses, I offer up a brief overview of the some of engagement techniques I observed at Dell Tech World 2019. I hope you can use this info to increase booth effectiveness while saving money and time wasted on unsuccessful tactics.
On the show floor at this show, booth space is dominated by hardware manufacturers. Here a rack, there a rack, everywhere a rack-rack… Most of these booths seemed to have an engagement strategy of simply rolling out their racks of technology then letting attendees wander in and ‘kick the tires’ without assertive engagement. I assume this is due to the long sales cycle for these products, making it more of a challenge to show exhibit ROI, so they’re going for the non-measured ‘brand awareness’ objective. In situations like these, I wonder if booth space is the best use of live event marketing money. Perhaps either some booth staff training, or spending more on logo presence throughout the show and foregoing the somewhat underused space may be a better spend.
Booth Theater Presentations
A few booths at this show utilized the crowd gatherer/presenter model of engagement to good effect. Attendees seemed willing to sit through a presentation in order to be eligible for a raffle at the end. Although the “qualified-prospect” to the “I-just-want-the-prize-attendee” ratio can be dubious in these situations, its better than an empty booth, and can certainly drive demos. The challenge could come on the backend, when marketing forwards sales hundreds of scans with no qualification notes. Possible solution? Quicker, flashier on-going presentations with no scan required including a hard call-to-action to the demo stations, where attendees are qualified, scanned and provided a use case-specific demo.
Spin to Win
I saw multiple versions of the classic ‘spin to win’ wheel engagement concept on the floor at Dell World, and each one had massive lives down the expo floor aisles. Each had chances to win products like game systems, high tech backpacks, bluetooth mice, speakers and headphones. All good, expensive stuff, so no wonder attendees were lining up. I like the honesty here- this tactic doesn’t even pretend to be connected to the booth messaging, which is fine (but not terribly creative)! It works, as long as booth staff is trained to engage and qualify everyone in the line so sales knows what they’re getting on the back end.
The somewhat standard booth engagement offerings at Dell Technologies World offer a big opportunity for exhibitors willing to take a chance on a game show or character concept next year. Also, booth staff training could help less engaging hardware-focused booths increase their show ROI.
Until next time, best of luck planning your next event marketing initiative. We’ll see you on the show floor!
Palo Alto, CA- Proud to announce that I have wrapped up my journey towards “World Champion of Public Speaking” by placing second in the Toastmasters Division A International Speech Competition on Wednesday, April 10, 2019. I delivered my inspirational speech, “Failure is not an Option” about my experiences performing with the Blue Man Group. Huge congratulations to Aaron Samson with his first place speech, “Catching Her Breath.”
Aaron moves forward to the District Four Contest, and then onward towards the “World Champion of Public Speaking” Championship in Denver, CO.
Nashville, TN- AORN, or the Global Surgical Conference and Expo, calls itself the largest gathering of perioperative nurses in the world. Thousands of nurses converge upon this show eager to learn about the latest surgical technologies and products. From an engagement standpoint, AORN provides an interesting case study, as most of the attendees are not actual decision makers. In fact, these attendees have widely varied levels of influence on the decision makers, depending on the structure of their individual hospital systems, so its much more challenging to judge ROI on show expenditures. Additionally, healthcare shows in general play by the rules of the Sunshine Act. The Physician Payments Sunshine Act requires medical product manufacturers to report payments made to physicians and teaching hospitals. This means EVERYTHING, right down to ball point pens, and that usually means no giveaways whatsoever at physician-targeted shows. Even though this show was targeted at nurses, it still seems that most exhibitors shy away from any giveaways, and that presents an added barrier to engagement. In this edition of my ongoing series of post-show tactical analyses, I offer up a brief overview of the some of engagement techniques I observed at AORN 2019. I hope you can use this info to increase booth effectiveness while saving money and time wasted on unsuccessful tactics.
Healthcare Providers must obtain a certain number of continuing education credits, or CE credits, each year to maintain certification. Providers can obtain these credits by learning and being tested about new technologies. Offering CE Credits was the most popular and effective engagement technique on the show floor at AORN. CE Credits are a win-win: they offer a valuable service to prospects, and exhibitors have an opportunity to show their product, although it must be portrayed in a relatively unbiased, educationally-focused overview of options. AORN booths either exchanged educational quiz booklets or delivered presentations/quizzes to provide CE credits. From an engagement standpoint, it is essential to have a moderator who can push attendees to demo stations following the expert presentation, since the expert presenter will be delivering an “unbiased” educational talk.
As mentioned above, expert presentations were heavily utilized at AORN to provide educational overviews followed by a test opportunity for CE credit. Presenters at health care shows are primarily subject matter experts, along with professional moderators to crowd gather, facilitate Q/A and push attendees to reps and demo stations. Attendees generally find interesting presentations via the show program or app and visit the booth at the designated time, rather than just strolling the show floor to find something interesting. However, I saw some booths successfully utilize crowd gathering techniques for less-attended presentations. As the presenters are generally expected to maintain an unbiased perspective, its critical to have a moderator to add the booth call-to-action, whether it be a demo, a rep conversation, or simply a badge scan. I saw many booths miss this critical engagement opportunity.
Other Engagement Tactics
A few booths utilized some of the more common engagement tactics from across the industry spectrum. I observed a money machine cash cube, a few end-of-day raffles and plenty of pen and grocery bag giveaways (the Sunshine Act didn’t apply at this show). While these were nice starting points, most booth staff at AORN were simply not trained to properly leverage these tactics, so the tactics were left dormant much of the time. Healthcare booths are generally staffed by medical company sales reps with specific territories, so assertive general attendee engagement has historically been less than stellar (unless reps recognize attendees from their territory!) No matter how great a booth engagement tactic may be, if booth staff doesn’t assertively engage with all attendees, its worthless.
The nurses on the floor at AORN were legitimately interested in learning about exhibitor’s new technology. However, due to the laissez faire engagement stance of most exhibitor booth staff, many booths were left empty. This presents a unique opportunity for exhibitors willing to use more straightforward engagement tactics. Whatever your booth attract, be sure to spend time training your booth staff and consider a professional moderator to ensure maximum attendee engagement. Otherwise, you’re wasting money.
Until next time, best of luck planning your next event marketing initiative. We’ll see you on the show floor!
San Francisco, CA- It was 2017, and I was working at the Black Hat Conference at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. A charismatic sales engineer on a makeshift stage had a crowd spilling out of his booth and blocking the aisle. His prospects were transfixed- cheering on his command, eagerly leaning forward, ready to do anything he asked. No, he wasn’t doing a raffle, he was using the principles of rhetoric to persuade and mesmerize his audience. These classic principles can offer huge power to trade show professionals who wield them effectively. Below I’ll define rhetoric and give three tips on how to use it in your booth presentations to maximize your booth results.
Rhetoric on the Expo Floor
Aristotle defined Rhetoric as "the ability, in each particular case, to see the available means of persuasion.” He defined the three means of persuasion as ethos (credibility), pathos (emotion) and logos (logic). Most trade show presentations rely too much on logic and can be far more effective by utilizing emotion and credibility/shared identity to persuade groups of prospects in their booths. The “group” aspect is critical. Whereas a sales deck may be presented to a single person, a trade show presentation will be presented to a group of 8-30 people, and groups behave much differently. Just ask Sigmund Freud, one of the first trade show consultants! According to Freud, when individuals are part of a group, they have a tendency to be infected by any emotion within the group, and then to actually amplify that emotion through what he called, “mutual induction.” So, if you can elicit a group emotion through your presentation, it will become self-sustaining and grow on its own accord.
Emotion can be powerful, unpredictable and not terribly bright. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt described a model of emotion as an elephant (our emotional side) and a rider (our rational side.) Chip and Dan Heath elaborate in their book “Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard”:
Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose. He’s completely overmatched.
Admittedly, in the business-to-business space buying decisions are made with input from many stakeholders over time. However, each of those stakeholders is an emotional human being, and on the trade show floor we should utilize the most effective tools in our marketing arsenal. So, here are three tips to use in your presentation to speak to the emotional elephant, rather than the rational rider.
Identify with your Prospect
Most trade show presentations quickly attempt to establish credibility (Aristotle’s ethos) by overwhelming prospects with accomplishments and social proof in the form of testimonials and case studies. A more efficient and effective method can be to establish common ground and a shared identity. Strive to create an inclusive group which includes both your prospects and yourself. A quick way to do this in your presentation is by defining a common problem that “we’ve all faced,” opening the door to inside jokes and lamenting- only to be solved by your solution later, of course!
It helps here to passionately give voice to your prospects’ common sentiments, complaints and aspirations. The word “demagogue” generally holds a negative connotation, but it deserves a second look in the trade show setting. Google defines the word as one “who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument.” Many trade show presentations are simply rephrased sales decks, loaded with highly technical demos and statistics. A quick stroll around the expo floor can show that it’s a tough place for careful, nuanced thought and evaluation. While hard features are important, establishing common ground with your prospect’s identity can also be very effective when used with restraint.
Limit the problem carefully
After successfully establishing credibility through shared identity, its time to frame the problem which your solution solves. Government wartime propaganda offers a useful example here. During times of conflict, news outlets consolidate multiple enemies into one, and portray complicated situations as black/white and good/evil. This is highly effective as a means to create group identity and motivate action, and this technique can also be used in the much lower stakes world of trade show presentations. Consider reverse engineering your problem to clearly point to your value proposition. In his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” social psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes an overriding cognitive bias that humans share, abbreviated as WYSIATI, or “What You See Is All There Is.” Essentially, those problems which are most recent and easily accessible seem most important. Consolidating the problem can also further create a shared identity and increase receptivity to your solution. Save those complicated use-case specifics for one-on-one demos.
Connect to basic human needs
Finally, connect the dots from your feature, to your benefit, then all the way back to your prospects’ basic human needs and desires. Sure, your solution is easy to install, but what does that mean to your prospect in his day to day life? More time, saved money, or a longer lunch? Daniel Kahneman offers another tip here from his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow:” Humans have been shown to be primarily loss-averse. In other words, your prospects are more likely to act to avert a loss than to achieve a gain, so showing avoidance of bad outcomes is more effective than showing gains when pitching your solution.
Handle with Care
Using these three rhetorical techniques will have a measurable effect on your qualified booth conversations. Their power has been leveraged for centuries for both good and nefarious ends, so its important to use them with care. Keep in mind what good old Uncle Ben said to Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Aristotle himself also had something to say about that:
If it is urged that an abuse of the rhetorical faculty can work great mischief, the same charge can be brought against all good things (save virtue itself) such as strength, health, wealth, and military skill. Rightly employed, they work the greatest blessings.
Any use of persuasion techniques can cross the line into manipulation, and I’m fascinated by where we choose to draw that moral boundary. Please post your thoughts on this historically controversial issue!
San Francisco, CA- Strata Data! Its all about the Big Data here, folks. Whether you’re targeting data scientists, data architects or data engineers, they’re going to be interested in data manipulation demos at Strata. This conference is a perfect example of how the best engagement tactics are completely dependent upon the target demographic. I spent this show conducting exit interviews for a client and learned that these data folks are interested in 1 thing: demo’s. Oh, and maybe stickers as well. In this edition of my ongoing series of post-show tactical analyses I offer up a brief overview of the some of engagement techniques I observed at Strata Data 2019. I hope you can use this info to increase your booth effectiveness while saving the money and time wasted on unsuccessful tactics.
Conference organizers placed 2 Skee-Ball games at the entrance to the expo hall at Strata. These were empty most of the show, and this carnival game trend may be fading away for now (till next time, that is). However, they were part of a relaxation area with seats, desk space and phone charging, which saw quite a bit of use. Attendee seating and phone charging amenities can gain traffic, however prospects won’t necessarily be willing to have a conversation. Passive messaging like looping demo videos work well in this setup.
Professional Headshot Station
Conference organizers provided a professional headshot station for attendees smack dab in the middle of the expo floor. Lines down the aisle were pretty much non-stop throughout the show. Here’s an engagement tactic that truly offers a valuable, usable takeaway for prospects- I would’ve lined up as well if I had the time! A headshot station offers a huge opportunity for direct prospect engagement as long as booth staff has been properly trained to elicit conversations rather than simply scanning badges.
Live T-Shirt Screenprinting
Following the headshot station, the next biggest draw at Strata Data was the live T-shirt screenprinting station, also sponsored by conference organizers. I must admit, I am bewildered by the popularity of this tactic (aren’t they making the same shirts that most other booths are giving away?), but I can’t argue with the lines of prospects that this tactic creates. Also, having booth staff inquire prospects about which design they prefer provides a great opening for a qualifying conversation.
Product Demo plus Trivia Game
This concept was the closest thing I saw to an engagement home run at Strata Data. The data scientists I spoke with had no patience for silly sales pitches and wanted efficient and knowledgable product demos. However, if the knowledgable product demo was combined with a fun, content-appropriate trivia challenge where they could show off their own knowledge, they were hooked. Demo staff had to be not only charismatic, but also highly knowledgable and able to respond to prospect curveballs. Consider bringing on a professional presenter only if you have time to thoroughly train the presenter on the product. This demographic will not suffer fools gladly!
The data scientists, data architects and data engineers at Strata Data were interested primarily in learning through demos on the expo floor. However, the headshot and screenprinting stations were popular draws as well. Whatever your target demographic, be sure to spend some time investigating your prospects’ engagement preferences while planning your booth engagement tactics, or hire an engagement consultant like myself. Bottom line, every prospect wants a knowledgable conversation about a solution to their company’s problem. The question is: how do most efficiently start that conversation with your target prospect?
Until next time, best of luck planning your next event marketing initiative. We’ll see you on the show floor!
Palo Alto, CA- Very proud to announce that I have won the Toastmasters Area A2 International Speech Competition with my inspirational speech, “Failure is not an Option” about my experiences performing with the Blue Man Group.
Huge thanks and gratitude to my home group, SAP Toastmasters and Area A2. Now, on to the Division A Contest, and then onward towards the “World Champion of Public Speaking” Championship in Denver, CO!
San Francisco, CA- RSA! They call it “the world’s leading information security event,” and I tend to believe them. The packed North and South Halls of Moscone Center are pretty overwhelming! In this edition of my ongoing series of post-show tactical analyses I offer up a brief overview of the new and old engagement techniques I observed at RSA 2019. I observed these tactics at multiple times of day, during both busy and heavy traffic times. Of course, best booth tactics always depend on marketing objectives, but here, I focus on a blend of volume of qualified conversations with total badge scans. With this info, I hope you can increase your booth effectiveness while saving the money and time wasted on unsuccessful tactics.
I saw quite a few booths utilizing rented and custom skinned classic carnival games like Skee-Ball, Whack-a-Mole and Giant Operation. While seemingly a fun idea, I noticed very few lines forming, and if attendees did participate, they were generally alone and would quickly move on without engaging in a conversation. Games like this seem to work better when hosted by the conference itself in a common area as a way to blow off steam, rather than in a booth for generating brand awareness and conversation. At the very least, the game should be augmented with a charismatic staffer trained to encourage the prospect to share their specific business problems.
Retro was very “in” at RSA, probably due to the Stranger Things 80’s phenomena, and the perfect alignment with the childhood demographics of many Infosec attendees. Many booths had versions of video game classics in both large, multi-player and standard single-player versions. Again, a fun idea (I love video games!), but they seemed to not attract the crowds for which they were designed. Perhaps prospects don’t want to lose or look silly in front of a crowd? Again, the game needs to be augmented with a charismatic staffer to make the messaging connection and encourage the prospect to share their specific business problems.
Celebrity author signings were indisputably the biggest crowd draw I saw at RSA 2019. Lines stretched around booths, down aisles and then around yet more booths. These successful tactics offered a huge opportunity for direct prospect engagement as long as booth staff had been properly trained to elicit conversations rather than simply scanning badges. Utilizing pre-show outreach and conference sponsor publicity options are a requirement here, as relying solely on booth signage to draw attendees is a risky proposition for a relatively brief signing event.
The Charismatic Sales Engineer/ Moderator
Ah yes, the sweet spot! The holy grail of booth engagement! The epitome of qualified lead gathering! I saw a few of these rare animals on the RSA floor: highly knowledgeable, funny and engaging. These folks would gather a crowd, provide valuable, take-away information that wasn’t a sales pitch, and then truly engage the group in a back and forth discussion of the various attendees’ real business problems. Consider adding a professional moderator to gather and energize the crowd and encourage conversations with multiple SE’s on mic for a booth busting conversation. This is how its done, folks!
RSA provided a great overview of the current state of tech trade show engagement. While there were plenty of nostalgia-driven trends, the best option I saw for engaging prospects in qualifying conversations was a highly knowledgeable contractor or Sales Technician who could lead a group conversation, rather than a presentation. This allowed solutions to be presented specifically to prospect titles and problems.
San Francisco, CA- I’ve been rereading Dale Carnegie’s 1936 classic “How to Win Friends & Influence People,” and I’m loving how it applies to the trade show environment. I first read this persuasion classic back in junior high, and I found the content to be exceedingly manipulative. “Speaking in terms of the other person's interests...” “Finding something to admire about others…” These aphorisms seemed targeted at getting what you wanted by showing false attention.
However, now with about 30 years under my belt, I have a much different perspective on the value of these truisms. The difference? Well, I’m a different person now: with more self confidence, more self esteem, and the ability to actually appreciate and enjoy others without expectation. Interestingly, these traits also make a successful and effective booth staff! Here are a few of Carnegie’s tips that you can put to use in your booth at your next show:
1. “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
Sure, it’s hokey to read a person’s name as they walk by in the aisle, and then greet them with a joyful “Hey Name! Great to see ya!” However, it never fails to get a goofy smile, and offers a potential conversational opener. In what other social situation can we call strangers by their name in public, and not be accused of nefarious activities? However, its critical to take Carnegie’s words to heart: a person’s name is not a joke- it’s the most important sound in the world to them. Don’t be afraid to greet your prospects by name in an honest and joyful manor. Its the easiest expo floor opener out there (if you can read their badge, that is).
2. “Make the other person feel important, and do it sincerely.”
Carnegie suggests finding something (anything) in other people to honestly admire, and then sincerely communicating it to them. On a trade show floor, booth staff has a few seconds at most to connect with attendees as they hustle by to attend their workshops, vendor meetings and keynote addresses. What can be admired in this minuscule slice of life? Well, pretty much just physical appearance. An honest, appropriate comment can go a very long way in snapping an attendee out of their rushed day at the trade show. At your next show, try giving sincere compliments as a way to engage. You may be surprised at the fruitful conversation that follows.
3. “Become genuinely interested in other people.”
Once an attendee is in the booth, booth staff can be tempted to launch into their show-appropriate brand messaging. However, Carnegie offers some profound counter-advice: get the prospect talking. Limit the “I”s and maximize the “You”s in your dialogue. It's about them, after all. Carnegie suggests that good listening makes you seem like a genius conversationalist, and from a trade show perspective, that’s the kind of brand your prospect wants to engage with. After all, a trade show interaction is not about closing the sale, its about establishing a relationship, and there’s no better way to establish a relationship than by listening. To be interesting, be interested. At your next show, get your prospects talking.
As you jump on a plane to your next trade show, do yourself a favor and download “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” The aphorisms are a bit hokey and the examples are a bit dated (Abraham Lincoln, anyone?), but you’ll find ideas that are immediately applicable in your trade show booth. Encouraging these concepts in your booth staff engagement tactics will have a drastic effect on your lead count and ROI. Good luck out there, and I’ll try to greet you by your name when we meet (if I can see your badge)!
Presenting my inspirational Keynote Speech, "Off the Tightrope: 3 Steps to your Greatest Show on Earth!"
Los Angeles, CA- Engagement consultant and keynote speaker Don Colliver presented his inspirational keynote speech "Off the Tightrope: 3 Steps to your Greatest Show on Earth!" in Los Angeles for the Wilshire Rotary Club on January 17, 2018.
Los Angeles, CA- Professional trade show booth presenter and engagement consultant Don Colliver facilitated his "Cirque to Work" training workshop at the Century City Toastmasters Club in Los Angeles on August 30th, 2017.
Members of Century City Toastmasters participated in group and solo activities, learning about next level engagement and and the value of vulnerability for more effective group communication.
Los Angeles, CA- Professional trade show booth presenter and engagement consultant Don Colliver facilitated his "Cirque to Work" training workshop at the Toastmasters Leadership Institute in Los Angeles on July 15th, 2017.
Executive Leadership from throughout Toastmasters' District One participated in group and solo activities, learning about next level engagement and and the value of vulnerability for more effective group communication.
Los Angeles, CA- Proud to say that I won the final Toastmasters International District One Speech Championship on May 20th, 2017 after winning my Group, Area and Division Competitions. I delivered my Tall Tale, "Matt the I.T. Guy."
Los Angeles, CA- Brent PIerson, a co-worker from my non-fiction television days, was kind enough to feature me on his podcast, where I talk about theatrical clowning, and my performance work with Blue Man Group, Cirque du Soleil and Spiegelworld.