Last month I participated in 3 virtual summits and staffed 2 virtual marketplace “booths.”
It was my first time in a virtual marketplace and I was a bit nervous because I wasn't sure how to cultivate prospects -like where’s the fishbowl for business cards?
I wanted to make a good first impression but was not sure how to motivate attendees to visit my booth so I could talk with them.
What would you do in this situation?
Fortunately the event organizers allowed us to “set-up” our virtual marketplace booth in advance and we were given some technical instructions. We practiced using all the features and posted our schedule for live discussions. But then once the summit went live and I panicked!
How was I going to engage people virtually without seeming creepy or salesy?
So here's what I learned....
First lesson - Be prepared, but not in the way you may think. In the “old days” with in-person marketplace booths you did a “show & tell.” You attracted people to see something at your booth so you could tell them what you had to offer. I learned that this needs to change in our new digital / virtual environment. And since I offer a service, I couldn't think of what to “show” or demonstrate live - and I could not hand out free candy!
Tip #1 Offer something for free that is really relevant for the audience...but don't make it your main or only talking point. Create a website link to a free download, video, guide that is informational and educational. This requires that you be prepared BEFORE the virtual summit and you have your URL ready to post and promote. So “show” something AFTER your initial engagement.
Second lesson - I’m now learning to chat better online. I’ve noticed that most people prefer to remain anonymous and write comments or questions in chat. I realized that if youI want to spur engagement, you need to have short questions to paste in chat also “like” or upvote others comments and questions. After chatting publicly during the workshop, I would invite participants to come to my booth to talk more (use your booth number or a url link if you have one).
Tip #2 Streamline your virtual booth to spur engagement and invite everyone to join the discussion and shared learning. Some virtual booths actually have polls and discussion boards pre-staged so you can monitor during the Summit (especially when the marketplace LIVE sessions are closed). Follow a few threads of discussion among all sessions (or better yet BEFORE the summit starts if there is a slack channel). Again...invite others to be part of your discussion by pasting your booth url or booth number/name to invite people to drop by your booth.
Third lesson I don’t need to have all the answers nor have to be a subject matter expert. People are seeking knowledge, information and shortcuts to gaining awareness that I may have a unique perspective to share. So, when I offer insights from my experience and I’m curious to learn others' experiences it creates a learning environment.
Tip #3 Share relevant information about the topic of discussion or from your experience. Share anything you’ve read or published or other great online resources. Always share your LinkedIn profile or another online link about yourself.
My recent experience tells me things are changing. The Summit Marketplaces are not what they used to be about (catching sales prospects) but rather about information sharing and connecting with those with similar interests. Which still allows you to build a list of people with shared interest, who may become prospects or collaborators someday.