I occasionally find myself at a vegan event – something like vegfest or the vegan festival (yes, maybe these names are a touch similar) and there are a great many stalls selling things that promote saving other things.
It’s interesting; but only just.
In vegan supplies, everything is web-driven. So all the companies selling, for example, raw coco beans, or vegan face creams, make almost all of their money online. Almost of all the campaigning that the campaigning organisations do is by email.
I quite like this state of affairs, but the problem is that most of these organisations have no real clue what to do when running a stand at a physical event. It’s bizarre. Deeply bizarre that you have effectively (in the case of vegfest) a tradeshow that is entirely populated by people who have no idea how a tradeshow works or even what they are doing there.
Last year I turned up to vegfest on the third day; it was astonishing how few people could give a good answer to simple questions like “what does your organisation do?”.
On the third day.
When you go to a practised event (like even BETT can be) you deal with people who do a minimum of 20 trade shows a year and who have tightly setup spaces with a range of materials that are useful for a variety of people.
The people you chat to are attractive, attentive and personable. You never get as far as “what does your organisation do?” because they are leading with a couple of well chosen questions to find out about you.
If you come with a problem they can tell you how their product will save you money. If you come as press you get talked to about their cool new launch and if you are sorted into one of the many other categories you get given the relevant response or carefully passed on to someone who knows. If it’s a busy event you’ll be triaged carefully with timewasters given a pen and a smile. If it’s a quiet period then timewasters will be kept close and courted because everyone knows that people draw people and having an empty stand is the kiss of death.
Such events have a darkside as I moaned about at BETT but professionalism counts for a lot. Some people do it better than others, some concepts are inherently more likely to draw a crowd, but everybody can win. There’s a nice interaction; both sides understand what the other wants and they decide if they want to pursue further interaction.
Whereas vegfest was as endearing a mess as one could hope for. I spent much of my teenage years working on a market stall or at a flower show and I’m aware of the stamina it takes to do a full day of event work at a stand. Apparently that’s rare knowledge: at vegfest I saw stand after stand where the standholder was sat staring at nothing or with head in hands, plainly exhausted.
It doesn’t help that people running online business for niche groups are likely to be on the introvert end of the spectrum and thus even more exhausted by the process, but they should see it coming.
I spoke to many stands that really didn’t quite know what they were expecting to get out of the event. The reasoning appeared to be “a lot of groups like ours have a stand so many we should do to” which is admirably community spirited but terribly underthought.
Those were the stands that I could persuade to chat. Now I’m first to admit that I’m pretty far to the introvert end of the scale – a decade of attacking complex mathematical problems has hardly equipped me to be a charming conversationalist. But I can take a workmanlike attitude to the process and retrieve information with a reasonable amount of smiling all round. Nevertheless in some cases it was like drawing information out of a stone. Not only were standholders completely uninterested in us (as people to sell things to, who might be looking for a volunteering opportunity, who might have an event they were organising or be interested in writing a blog article about them) they seamed remarkably uninterested in telling us about what they did. While the professionals had 20 speeches for 20 types of customer, these guys had chosen to rely only on the full range of monosyllables.
Is this a thing that everyone has experienced or am I going to the wrong events?