So, Team 12th Man have been out and about over the last month at various events up and down the country, across industries including construction, food and drink, scientific & chemical for both B2B and B2C audiences. We have been an exhibitor, a visitor, a supplier and an organiser over the last month so we've seen live events from almost every angle possible which has been a hugely valuable development experience. We've been the tired and slightly nervous exhibitor apprehensive about getting asked THAT question by a customer We were the anxious organiser when a speaker was 5 minutes late, worrying that we might have to enter stage right and fill the void. And we were definitely the wide-eyed out-of-towner at a local food fair being tempted and over-whelmed by a myriad of smells, sights and sounds. But what have we learnt and are live events still relevant?
In planning for these events we heard that 'trade shows are dead', and 'no-one can commercially evaluate live events' which arguably could be fair criticism...unless you subscribe to the old adage you get out what you put in. Live events are tough, they're not the out-of-the-office jolly they may often be labelled and not everyone is 'good' at doing them. We've passed countless exhibitors who are hidden away at the back of their stands, on their phones or eating their lunch, desperately avoiding eye-contact with visitors and looking as though they'd rather be absolutely anywhere else. But it can be easy to forget it's harder than it sounds as we found out on the other side of the fence, especially when visitors are equally avoiding eye contact and looking as though they want to be anywhere else! But a simple smile and a non-threatening 'Hi there' kick-started a number of useful conversations.
And I say useful as opposed to 'sales' conversations as whether it was another supplier with an interesting mutual opportunity, a customer who just wanted to give some feedback or a presenter who was sharing some of their expertise, every conversation added some value to something we were doing. Value we wouldn't have un-covered if we hadn't taken a chance, been brave and started the chat in the first place. We might not be able to put a cash value on that interaction but we instinctively know it added something to help us become better at what we do...even when it was asking a chef at a food demo how to make pizza on a barbie (and yes it's possible so email us if you'd like more details!). And we definitely know we'll be more engaged and more empathetic visitors to live events in future!
The other element we've been reminded of over the last month is to keep open-minded. Surely the CEO of a folding bicycle company wouldn't be of any interest to a B2B audience of convenience retailers right? Wouldn't a sales team with a day off the road just want coffee and a gossip as opposed to actually learning from suppliers? Rhubarb liqueur is never going to taste good? Wrong to all of the above actually! Adding in a couple of non-sector specific speakers to a line-up of industry experts brought some dynamism, a fresh perspective and a different energy. We were invigorated by a customer's internal sales team who were as keen, enthusiastic and eager to learn about our client's product range as the client themselves and far from an easy day out of the office, were desperate to soak up as much as they possibly could from the experts in the rooms. Rhubarb liqueur, washed down with a healthy dose of Yorkshire Hot-Dog and a side-order of Fish-Finger sandwich is a gourmet meal at a food festival even if on paper you'd bet against it. Sometimes the strangest combinations work, the audience you least anticipate engaging with can be the most passionate and throwing in something out of the ordinary keeps a visitors mind sharp! Gut instinct can be a precious tool in business but once in a while it's profitable to take advantage of the unexpected.
Without doubt one of the best outcomes of the last month has been the ability to see live events from all angles, understanding how visitors think about their time at events, awareness of why organisers make certain decisions and a real perception of how it feels to be an exhibitor faced by a crowd of people you really want to speak to but might secretly be a bit scared of. None of these experiences were new to us but we perhaps hadn't experienced all the different perspectives in such a short timescale before which really highlighted the different context and landscape for each actor within a live event framework. And it's something we'd love to do more of to become better at the other services we provide on behalf of clients. So now our thoughts turn to opportunities to actually write full articles for magazines, not just submit commentary, to going out selling with a client's sales team and working in stores, bars and restaurants to help us really add value to how we experience and understand the markets we work in. It can be so difficult to find time out and understand the mind-set and priorities of the other stakeholders in your specific market when everyone is continually stretched but the last few weeks have definitely inspired us to get out there and learn!
The vibrancy, inter-action and community of the last few weeks has been exhilarating and already we're hearing stories of valuable connections, dynamic networking and yes indeed cash sales. Thinking back over the last few weeks for anyone who says live events no longer have a place in doing business, I'd throw down the challenge to come spend some time with our team next time we hit the road and we'll see if we can influence your view!