5 Lessons Learned Working the BEA Info Booth

Learning on the job

Learning on the job

Message from Siri: 10 percent power remaining. A hunt begins throughout New York’s enormous Javits Convention Center. Nothing, nothing, and then finally, an outlet behind an unmanned information booth. I plug in, sit and wait, not realizing that from the other side, it appears I am the guy with the answers. I am no such thing. I am at BookExpo America as an author and blogger.

In 30 minutes, I was approached by some 50 BEA visitors looking for everything from bathrooms to an evening book auction. At first, I demurred. “Sorry, just charging.” Some smiled, some looked disappointed. So I switched it up. “I’m just charging my phone, but I’ve been here a few times. What are you looking for?” The difference was significant. Some takeaways:

1 – Even impatient New Yorkers appreciate a smile, candor and forthrightness. Authors meeting readers for the first time should not overlook the importance of open body language, getting to the point quickly, and, as the conversation goes on, finding common interests.

2 –Some people are less comfortable beginning any kind of dialogue with a stranger. Make them feel welcome by speaking first. “Bet you’re looking for the art auction,” I said when two women approached “my” booth, (and after I’d figured out where the thing was being held). They not only appreciated the directions, they also listened to a quick pitch about my novel and took a bookmark that describes the plot and lists my website.

3 – You’re not going to win over everyone. One guy had missed his flight and arrived late. Anyone could tell at a glance he was tense, out of patience, and probably hungry. The new word is hangry. He wanted info I didn’t have. I told him I was just charging. His eyes said I should have found somewhere else to power up. If I was manning the information booth, I should have answers.

4 – Some people are just the opposite, and it’s okay to have a little fun. “Where is the art auction?” another woman asked. “Where do you think it is?” I answered. A light came on. “You don’t work here,” she said. “Correct, I’m just charging up. But I’ve heard the auction is up that escalator and to the right.” Bottom line: stiff and formal is not memorable. Let your personality show.

5 – People meeting you for the first time will make a judgment in about 10 seconds. Make sure you’re approachable and try to be helpful. You’ll notice a huge difference when you look at things from their point of view. Somehow you become more interesting, which opens a door to discuss other topics. Which, by the way, helps the time pass much more agreeably while your phone is coming back to life.

I enjoyed my brief time as a BEA info man. Has anything similar ever happened to you?

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2 Comments so far »

  1. Frances said,

    Wrote on June 3, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

    Funny, Steve! Here’s my similar story – One year, I was at a conference and there was line waiting for corrections to registration (changing meals, workshops, etc.) I happened to be in the front of the line and as people arrived, I anticipated a flood once the Help desk finally opened. Most importantly, I did not want to lose my place in front. I took out paper, tore it in squares and numbered it and handed people numbers as they came to get in line, as well as triaging anything we could fix amongst ourselves (matching people who wanted to switch event tickets, for instance.) When the desk opened, everyone fell into order, and the Helpers were perplexed as to where the numbers came from.


    Steve Piacente Reply:

    HA, great story, Frances. Sometimes all it takes is for one industrious person to take charge. Thanks for coming by; talk soon!


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