There’s nothing like watching an athlete at the top of their game -- the sprinter racing to the finish line, the star center sinking the game winning shot. They make it look absolutely effortless, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for them to perform that well.

Appearances can be deceiving. What you don’t see is the long, grueling hours of training and practice star athletes put in behind the scenes: the endless laps around the track with no one watching, the skill drills where that star player practices jump shot after jump shot after jump shot.

The same is true for exhibiting. The truly great exhibitors don’t just show up at the show and automatically know how to turn in a great performance. They’ve trained for the event, making sure that they’ve got a good grasp of the fundamental skills needed and the game-day strategy critical to ensure success.

What type of training routine does your exhibiting team have? Most companies, if they answered honestly, would have to say little to no time is devoted to practicing the skills needed to do a good job on the show floor. It’s assumed that the skills necessary to be a good salesman or manufacturer’s rep in the field will automatically transfer over into the show environment.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Someone who jogs everyday, even if they run for miles at a time, does not automatically turn into a top-notch marathon runner. You can work out in the weight room twice a week at the gym. That doesn’t mean you’re anywhere near ready to go compete in Olympic level power lifting!

There are some essential differences between the everyday routine your sales reps face and the high-pressure intense situation they encounter on the show floor. From the extremely limited amount of time your team has with each attendee to the length of the event to the sheer numbers of people one talks to in the course of the day, tradeshows are a demanding event. One needs to maintain lightning quick reflexes like a boxer while performing for hours on end like a marathon runner. The only way to combine these two seemingly disparate skill sets is by training.

If you want your team to break the ribbon, bring home the gold medal, claim the trophy, then you need to provide them with the training and practice opportunities they’ll need to succeed.

This training takes place ‘behind the scenes’ yet yields very visible results. Sharpening skills for tradeshows will also improve performance in the everyday sales environment: active listening, for example, will help your team focus on the customer, truly understand their needs, and deliver accordingly. This will deepen and reinforce existing relationships, as well as make establishing new relationships easier -- after all, an existing customer will have no hesitation recommending a vendor who does so much for them!

For maximum results, training efforts should be consistent throughout the year, intensifying as major events draw closer. Consider having your own “Spring Training Camp” sessions before the exhibiting season begins, to refresh booth skills, learn new information, and familiarize your team with the product lines and demonstrations you’ll be featuring.

Spring Training is mandatory for the baseball crowd, and it should be mandatory for your team too! Nobody is too experienced, too important or too busy to do what is, at the core, the most important aspect of everyone’s job: focus on the customer. Additionally, training together can help form valuable team bonds, a critical resource when you’re functioning in a high pressure environment.

Many times, training is viewed as a valuable perk. This is especially true as the pool of employees skews younger: the folks entering the job market today tend to place a higher premium on knowledge for knowledge’s sake than previous generations did. They’re savvy enough to realize training comes with expectations of enhanced performance -- but they also continually cite chances for education and career skills development as one of the factors they consider critical when choosing employers. If retaining your most valuable asset -- your employees -- is important to you, that’s just one more reason to put training on the schedule.

To recap: training is essential to ensure top notch performance for your team. For maximum results, provide training that is relevant, consistent, and of high value. Everyone should participate, with a focus on educating your staffers and strengthening team bonds.

That way, when it’s time for your team to take to the field, they too will turn in a top notch performance -- and make it look like it’s the most natural thing in the world!

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).