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Enhancing live communication through booth staff training

As a more than 10-year exhibition trainer transcended distant lands and heard various languages, he continued to find cases of untrained booth staff in live communication settings and sought to change the status quo.

“When staff goes to a show untrained, we know that, and we let people complain about the results,” said Han Leenhouts, owner, Sales & Pepper. “A big reason why people don’t do staff training is budget, yet more than 60 to 70 percent of a show’s success depends on staff training.”

Leenhouts presents "The Voice of IFES."
Leenhouts presents “The Voice of IFES.”

His Netherlands-based company aims to guide, motivate and teach sales teams. Trained booth staff delivers increased contacts, useful follow up, quality and make more money, according to Leenhouts, as well as turns down contacts that have no connection to the business.

“Another reason I hear is – ‘You know we have a very experienced crew,’” added Leenhouts. “For me, that is the selling argument, but for clients, that is often the showstopper. If there is no training, the show is a waste of money.”

Leenhouts trains staff more than 100 times a year. Each group contains more than 10 people, so he has trained at least 10,000 people and 1,000 companies in 27 countries. No matter what country he lands in, he finds that it takes certain people to staff a booth.

“They must be pro-active, brave, funny and energetic,” said Leenhouts. “The authority should skip unmotivated booth staff. When it reaches that point, politics take over, and people just book the stand. It tells me that there is lots of room for improvement.”

Despite facing cultural differences during his travels, Leenhouts can give the same booth training to all of his students due to the universal language and energy of stand performance.

“It is important to have a genuine interest in why the visitor has arrived at the booth. For Europeans, genuineness is something different than for those in the U.S.,” said Leenhouts. “During my first time in the U.S., I entered a store, just like a tradeshow, and a guy came up to me and said ‘How are you doing?’ I was amazed and happy with this nice icebreaker, so I started telling him that this was my first time in the U.S. and that I liked it very much. He was not listening. It was something he would say to anyone. That works in the U.S., not in Europe.”

A genuine conversation could also be what keeps a visitor at a booth when needed.

“If booth traffic is low, you keep them to fill up the stand. If it’s high traffic, the conversation will be short and painless. You will always need a one-minute minimum and five-minute maximum for new contacts in general,” explained Leenhouts. “There are exceptions for longer demonstrations. Existing clients might require more time – they are a group to be careful with.”

Engaging attendees can also be done through a stand’s design and gadgets that attract a crowd, but Leenhouts advises against completely relying on commonly used tablet display stands for lead retrieval.

“I have seen people struggle with [tablet display stands], and it sometimes becomes a goal in itself. It’s just a digital version of a brochure, the lead form and a VCR in one,” said Leenhouts. “The danger is that you both look at the screen, whereas the tradeshow provides you with the ultimate tool that is more powerful than all tablets in the world – live communication. For most people, this tool is scary because we are much more vulnerable here. Tablets can help with efficiency, but use it as a supplementary item.”

To help staff achieve their goals at tradeshows, Leenhouts has developed many techniques to train them.

“I use humor, which carries the message easier; confrontation, which brings up urgency; and interaction – it is all about this at tradeshows. I also use role playing. Because everybody is in it, no one can hide, so it feels safe,” explained Leenhouts. “I use predator birds as metaphors for energy. Falcons, vultures, buzzards and owls react to people, and if their energy is not real, they do not react – just like at a tradeshow.”

Drawing Leenhouts into the booth training was his experience as a stand builder.

“Our booth was not enough. If we wanted returning customers and a good show, additional booth staff training ensured that,” he explained.

When he is not training students, Leenhouts serves as a keynote speaker. He was invited by UFI, a global association of the exhibition industry, to speak on the latest trends in the market. Then his travels took him to the IFES 2013 World Summit in Cape Town, South Africa, where he presented “The Voice of IFES.”

The session followed the format of the televised singing competition “The Voice.” Several teams prepared a one-minute pitch in favor of live communication in front of three judges, including Donald Svehla, publisher of Exhibit City News. If the judges liked what they heard, they turned their chairs toward the team. If they didn’t like what they heard, they kept the back of their chairs to the team. Leenhouts also used this session to speak on the importance of using booth staff training to enhance live communication.

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