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Evolving Times – Body Language in the Time of Covid

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Evolving Times – Body Language in the Time of Covid

What follows is a reminder of “body language” tips that exhibit staff members paid heed to before March 2020 when Covid changed so much of our world. These tips are still valid even as we still wear a mask on the trade show floor.

Since social interaction practices in general took a hiatus, reviewing these is a good reminder of proven approaches to trade show success. We are sharing this in hopes that masking and social distancing will soon be a thing of the past. But since that is not true at the moment, we also have included below tips for presenting your most engaged approach even with a mask and few feet apart.

Imagine that a convention attendee walks into your trade show exhibit, and you approach them to start a conversation. Everything seems to be going well – they’re drawn to your custom exhibit design, they’re smiling and asking you questions. By all standards, they seem to be engaged both with you and your exhibit. And yet when you or your sales team try to follow up with them after the trade show has ended, you hear nothing but silence. Why?

Perhaps this prospect gave the impression that they were enjoying the experience your custom trade show exhibit fostered, if you were to use facial expressions and the words spoken as an indicator. But based on the psychology of body language, it’s also possible that what they were outwardly communicating wasn’t exactly the way they were feeling.

Thankfully, you don’t need a degree in psychology to understand the basics of how people express themselves through their body language. All you need are a few helpful hints so that you will be able to more accurately assess how they are experiencing your exhibit environment, whether or not you should approach them and when, and how to adjust your approach in order to bring down their defenses.

Don’t Judge By Facial Expressions Alone

For most of our lives, we hear phrases like, “Say cheese,” or “Don’t stop smiling,” or “Put your game face on.” These “suggestions” foster the idea that despite how we actually feel, we can mask our feelings by simply altering our exterior expression. Because of this belief, it can be easy to misjudge how someone actually feels about your trade show exhibit experience from his or her expression alone.

It’s only natural to look first at an attendee’s facial expression. You see they are smiling. Good, right? Not necessarily.  A genuine smile engages all the muscles in the face and the eyes are somewhat squinted, whereas a forced or “polite” smile is only with the mouth. True excitement and energy is difficult to hide and often transmits to other parts of the body, so paying attention to each individual physical gesture is key.

With masking mandates, it’s even more important to look at the expression around the eyes, as suggested in “Seeing Beyond the Mask” below.

How to Interpret Upper Body Language

It takes some practice to understand how and what people are communicating with their bodies, but once you can gauge how people are feeling before ever approaching them, it will make your interactions with them in the exhibit much more effective.

The upper body can offer insight as to how a person feels about you, your exhibit environment or general engagement. Elevated, raised or open arms can communicate excitement or enthusiasm, while crossed or folded arms can imply defensiveness, disinterest or even frustration. What is important to remember when deciphering another person’s body language is to observe everything within context. For example, if an attendee’s facial expression appears animated yet their arms are still crossed, they might just feel cold.

Oftentimes a sign of frustration is someone scratching the back of their head or rubbing their neck from behind.  Other negative signs can include avoiding eye contact, picking at their nails, pulling at clothing or simply backing away from you. If you see a prospect whose body language conveys frustration or disinterest, there are a few ways you can adjust your own nonverbal communication in order to modify their attitude. Changing your tone of voice or your approach to the conversation can help; you can also open up your own physical positioning by letting your arms rest gently at your sides. When the person you are talking with begins to mimic your body language, this indicates that they have lowered their defenses, have become receptive and are willing to communicate more openly with you.

Seeing Beyond the Mask

Even with a mask on, we can begin a meaningful interaction using eyes and eyebrows to let an attendee know they are welcome to enter.  Typically, when a person is approaching, arched eyebrows signal, “I’m glad to see you and I’m open to an interaction.”  Maintaining eye contact is critical to let the other person know you are listening and find what they are saying is of interest to you.  Avoid pensive eyebrows that form a “V” shape, as an attendee might read that as anger or frustration.

Another form of expressing interest with a mask in place is a titling of the head, indicating that you are listening and attentive. Nods and other head motions, when appropriate, also express engagement.

And let’s not forget, a smile still goes a long way, even behind a mask.  A smile can be seen in your eyes and by the way your cheek bones rise. Don’t avoid this crucial communication tool just because the attendee can’t see your mouth.

Call Exhibitus today to see how we can help create a custom environment design and train your exhibit staff to take your trade show exhibit to the next level as we return to the trade show floor.