An Introvert's Guide to Surviving ExpoWest

Guerrilla Survival Strategies for ExpoWest as an Introvert

Greg Simek - Feb 14 2022

If you're reading this your social feeds and emails are by now currently awash in hyper-enthusiastic proclamations of people's love affair with ExpoWest - "It's back! Sooooo excited!" or "Can't wait to be back on the showfloor" or "Open and Ready to Connect with Connection-Makers." Ummm.... Yay?

You might have tried to return the enthusiasm for a week or two with the obligatory LinkedIn likes and a few cliched comments of positivity thrown in for good measure. But with each time you write "I can't wait til showtime either!" you secretly die a little on the inside. Finally after a week, your play-along skepticism turns to dread and instead of counting down to when Expo begins you're already praying for it to have already ended. You wonder what these crazy extroverts are looking so forward to when for you it's 3 days of plastic smiles, forced enthusiasm and whole body fatigue (and double-so for the women who wear heels!).

Well, don't fear. I have been suffering this for 15 years since I started my manufacturing company.  I have many spent sleepless nights trying to figure how to make this show bearable and what I'm about to share with you are tried-and-true techniques from the trenches. Some of these secret strategems are more obvious than others and some might be considered unorthodox, but all are designed to help you camouflage yourself with your surroundings and/or extract yourself slightly more elegantly than the "I have to return some videotapes" Patrick Bateman exit strategy.

Patrick Bateman saying I have to return some videotapes

5 Strategems for Introverts to Survive ExpoWest

In nominal order, ranging from the straightforward to the immersive:

1First line of defense -avoid eye contact: While walking the show and checking out the other booths avoid eye contact at all costs. Unfortunately though sometimes your attempt at invisibility is intercepted by one of the boisterous booth reps who loudly interrupt your contemplative browsing with a "What company are YOU with?" (or if they find themselves to be a comedian, "Come on, you can try just one more sample- it won't kill ya!" Uhm hmm, sure). In this case, avoid actually replying verbally lest you become ensnared in their communication trap. Instead use the 3 step body-language exit: a quick upward glance, a fast and tight surprised smile and then run like the wind.

Girl giving fake courtesy smile

The 3 Step: The Ignore, the Quick Glance and then the Courtesy Smile

2

Quick Exit Strategy #1 Sometimes after an ambush you instinctively verbally reply to the booth rep instead of making the quick getaway. This can happen if the crowd is too big thereby blocking your exit or if you find yourself caught off your guard for a split second and you let your natural politeness sneak past your armored tradeshow exterior. Try to quickly regain your composure and then promptly change the topic by grabbing a sample or a brochure from the table and  effusively begin laying on the praise: "This sample is soooo delicious. Mmmmm, soooo good, I've never had a chocolate-covered mango-infused organic cricket taste so good in my life...Oh, it's a grasshopper and not a cricket you say? Oh my! It's even more delicious in that case!"

Yes, you'll be able to sample Chocolate Covered Crickets at Expo!

Man checking his watch awaiting a meeting

Walmart: They'll scoff in public but they'll be green with envy on the inside.

3Quick Exit Strategy #2 Wear an actual watch (pick up a cheap Timex for $20 if you need). Excuse yourself with a fake humblebrag, "I'd love to chat more but I'm meeting with the buyer at Walmart in five minutes and I'm not entirely sure where he told me to meet. Gotta go find it. Catch ya later!"

4Strategic Reframes when in Confinement. Maybe the crowd is just too strong or perhaps you were dragged to a cocktail party at the end of the day despite your inward desire to do nothing else other than to sneak back to your hotel room for a well-deserved nap. In these situations the exit door only leads back in and you absolutely must engage with your interlocutors out of adherence to social & professional norms. What you can do in order to deflect the conversation away from yourself is chat about their job by shifting to a more process-based view of their work, meaning not what they do, but how they do it. This can be a gateway to some interesting conversations and good ideas.

For example, say you find yourself in a room next to the 50th stevia salesrep you've met so far. She delivers her elevator-pitch that her stevia is different than all the rest and that it's completely inimitable and superior from all the other stevias out there and that you absolutely need it in your product.  It's hard for you to get excited about this because you've heard the same thing from the 49 previous stevia salesreps earlier and you don't have the guts to tell her you don't even use stevia.

Photo of reframing the conversation

Reframing the conversation. Literally.

So what you can do is reframe the conversation to a more personal level and talk about her process & career instead of her salespitch. For example: "Wow, you are so enthusiastic about your product, you're really great at sales. How did you get so good?" This is music to a salesperson's ears and ego and they quickly open up on a level less superficial than the trite marketing buzz you've heard a zillion times before. Indeed, it's often easier for introverts to relate on a substantive level because - to borrow a marketing analogy - the actual steak is much more interesting than the sizzle to those of us who see through the superficiality and illusion of propaganda.

Photo of James Bond

5

Motive-Based Engagement: As the adage goes, "If knowledge is power then information is  currency." In fact, there's a whole professional ecosphere of corporate spycraft referred to by its more palatable alias 'competitive intelligence.' As such, it's beneficial to imagine yourself as a James Bond-type figure trying to elicit hard-to-gather information from your competitors or your supply chain contacts. Indeed, tradeshows are a great repository of not just what the emergent trends in the marketplace are, but what behind-the-scenes moves the Big Money are plotting, what have been the hindrances to a certain product's sales, what internal issues a company might be facing etc etc. Usually these topics are of a particular interest to your industry and/or needs and it's prudent for you to think of some of the gossip you may be interested in beforehand because for some reason the lightbulb rarely illuminates while conversing unless you have a predetermined pretext (at least for me).

Talking all day long is a very arduous and draining task for introverts and they find themselves losing steam quickly. However, when you picture yourself as a suave James Bond character dangerously extracting classified secrets, this roleplay adds second-wind and excitement for those times when you're fatigued and your social energy reserves are plummeting.

Sometimes you're met with suspicion from your mark and they might even question your identity as it appears on your badge. In this case if your badge gives you away, you can say, "I'm actually just a friend of <badge owner> and he lent me this to walk the show. I'm actually his electrician and I'm really interested in living healthy" If you're able to muster your inner Bond with unflappable confidence you just might be able to keep the dialogue rolling. 

Conclusion

It's taken me years to develop this swiss-army knife of tricks through trial and error. Hopefully it will provide you some creative tactics to survive (and possibly thrive) for all 3 days of the show. Indeed, while introverts supposedly constitute about 40% of the country's population, it seems to me that we make up less than 1% of tradeshow attendees and exhibitors and thus we need to hone our skills to play in their world. Good luck!

By the way, if you liked this article come stop by my booth and say so....at least if you can catch me before my meeting with the Walmart execs 😄

Picture of Greg Simek

About the Author

Greg Simek is the founder & CEO of Body Nutrition, a nutritional supplement manufacturer and copacker. He loves tradeshows more than anything else on the planet obviously.

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