Cell phones have changed our world. With few exceptions, we can now talk to anyone we like whenever we’d like. The staccato symphony of ring tones accompanies us through our days: from the morning commute to the crowded restaurant at lunchtime, during meetings and even during the quick stop at the grocery store when the day is done. We’re always connected, always reachable. It’s a marvel.

It’s a marvel that can destroy your tradeshow performance.

Consider the following:

You’re at a tradeshow. An attractive exhibit catches your eye. The product on display is exactly what you’ve been searching for. When you approach the booth, a staffer looks up and with a gesture indicates that you should wait, just one minute, while he finishes his call. When he’s done talking to the important people, the message seems to be, he’ll be happy to talk to you.

How long are you going to wait? After all, you’ve only a limited amount of time at the show, and there are dozens of other booths on your ‘must-see’ list. When you discover that the display just a little further down the aisle also appears to feature a product that could fill your needs, chances are that’s all the impetus you’ll need to move along. There’s no sense waiting for the staffer to finish his call, not when there are other people who are more than ready to talk to you right now.

Let’s flip the scenario around. You’re on the other side of the aisle when your cell phone rings. Do you take the call?

I can hear you now. “But that’s different! My call is important!”

Guess what? The salesman in the first example thought his call was important too. And it was -- to him. It was more important than you were, at least.

Talking on your cell phone tells tradeshow attendees three things:

1. Your team’s focus is NOT on the tradeshow.

2. Your attendee is not the most important person in the room -- that honor belongs to whoever has your cell phone number.

3. The attendee’s business is not valuable to your company.

Add to this the very real possibility that attendees are listening to at least one side of your staffer’s cell phone conversations. What might they be hearing?

• Confidential business details, including customer names, order size and more. What great info for your competitors to have.

• Intimate, personal conversations. Nothing’s more off putting than TMI (too much information)!

• Humor or observations that may be considered offensive. What a PR nightmare!

How does this impact your marketing message? How does cell phone use by your staffers affect how that message is received by the show attendees?

(For a free copy of “10 Common Mistakes Exhibitors Make”, e-mail: article4@thetradeshowcoach.com)

It’s entirely possible that cell phone use by your staff will eliminate the clear communication of your marketing message. Sad but true: that’s the best you can hope for. Worse, and far more likely, attendees are getting different messages from your company, including:

• We’re too busy for you.

• We’re too important for you.

• We don’t care about you.

• You’re not worth our time.

• You don’t deserve our attention.

Is that the message you want to send? Emphatically NO! That’s why you need a cell phone policy. This policy will obviously vary by company, but should include the following:

• Cell phones must be shut off when you’re on the floor.

• Give staffers regular breaks so they can check messages and make calls, away from the exhibit.

• Staffers who have personal reasons to be in constant contact (i.e. small children, ailing parents, etc.) should be encouraged to program their phones to signal ‘high priority’ calls with a distinctive ring or vibration pattern. That way, staffers can only answer emergency calls and let voice mail pick up the rest. This offers your team the security of being constantly connected while still keeping the focus on the tradeshow attendees.

Expect some resistance when first introducing this policy. Cell phones have become such a part of our lives that many people feel naked without them. Explain the benefits and reasoning of the policy. Minimize tension by being flexible, providing ample opportunity for staffers to ‘check in’, and leading by example. You can’t tell your people to turn off their phones and then spend the day chatting on yours!

Author's Bio: 

Written by Susan A. Friedmann, CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, internationally recognized expert working with companies to increase their profitability at tradeshows. Author: “Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies,” and “Riches in Niches: How to Make it BIG in a small Market” (May 2007). http://www.thetradeshowcoach.com