The lifting of Covid restrictions in many countries asks as many questions of businesses as it answers. This applies to trade show organisers, exhibitors and attendees, as much as it does to other business sectors such as hospitality.
Trade show etiquette is going to be highly important, and it won’t simply be a case of doing what the law says you can do.
Why? Because the overriding issues aren’t to do with what is or isn’t permissible post-Covid, but human behaviour, responses and feelings.
What are People’s Post-Covid Expectations?
A recent poll suggests that most people want some form of Covid restrictions to continue.
For example, 60% want masks to remain mandatory on public transport.
If therefore, you're organising a trade show, you need to think about what people expect to experience there, and whether more relaxed restrictions will impact your footfall significantly.
This isn’t about adhering to principles or taking an ideological stance. It’s as much a practical business decision as anything else. If people aren’t altogether comfortable in how they learn to live with Covid, then they’ll be less likely to attend your trade show.
What measures can you put in place that will ease their anxieties and make them feel more comfortable?
Applying the New Etiquette
Business etiquette is important. It’s how we build relationships with others. It involves offering basic social comfort by providing environments in which people feel comfortable.
Trade shows offer busy, bustling business environments, typically involving large numbers of attendees.
Normally, these attendees would be eager to move around exhibition stands and interact with others. After all, trade shows offer ideal networking opportunities. According to figures, 71% of SMEs win business via face-to-face networking.
But coming out of Covid restrictions, things are likely to feel different. Yes, there’ll be plenty of business delegates and exhibitors eager to form new relationships and see or sell new products.
But as individuals, many of them may fall into that majority of people who are anxious about lifting restrictions. And remember, this is against a backdrop of the Government itself urging caution.
For now, at least, there’ll be new forms of business etiquette. Even if you feel comfortable with close contact, others may not.
Here are three major aspects of post-Covid business etiquette for trade show exhibitors to focus on:
1. How to Greet Visitors
Make sure your stand visitors feel in control of their own space. You might want to ensure that it doesn’t get too crowded by having a smaller entrance that limits numbers.
You can build this into your stand design, by streamlining your entrance using a demonstration, workstation or product display stand.
Obviously, this will make your stand appear less open, which is then where your greeting policy plays an important part.
You want to make sure attendees feel welcome but safe. Greeters should stay behind the counter and let attendees make up their own minds. The object is to be welcoming but not overbearing.
When your greeting staff are asking questions of attendees, these should be open-ended, requiring more than yes or no answers. This helps build dialogue and encourages stand visitors to want to find out more.
2. New Rules of Engagement
Running an exhibition stand is like running a shop. You can attract visitors but the crucial thing is keeping them there and turning them into leads.
How do you improve the bounce rate of your exhibition stand without making your visitors feel uncomfortable?
Don't assume people want to shake hands. For many more cautious attendees, this may still be taboo.
The new norm should be to avoid unnecessary contact while still engaging with stand visitors. Let your visitors take the lead and drive the level of interaction.
How comfortable will your own staff be with shaking hands? This is a crucial question if the visitor takes the lead. Make sure they are comfortable before the event and make sure they use hand sanitiser routinely after every handshake.
Familiarise your exhibition staff with body language if necessary:
- Smile at attendees
- Maintain eye contact
- Don’t cross arms
- Keep hands out of pockets.
These sorts of visual signals will take on even greater importance if attendees are feeling at all cautious about being in close proximity to other people.
3. Respect People’s Space
As a trade show exhibitor, you must respect other people’s space, even if you feel more comfortable being near large groups of people.
The boundaries may no longer be legally defined, but you should still allow people to maintain a good degree of personal space.
You might consider defining these boundaries on your stand by zoning them, or by creating a layout that maximises circulation and avoids any clutter or narrow areas.
Your stand’s traffic flow is an important principle to follow under any circumstances, but post-Covid it will take on an even greater significance.
How to Meet Social Expectations
Trade events are social as well as business occasions and many attendees are likely to have different social expectations and want to set their own boundaries.
Respect these boundaries and you can help your stand visitors, and all attendees on the day, feel that much more comfortable.