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My Trade Show Takeaway: To Have Great Conversations, Be Curious!

Curiosity is an essential ingredient in interesting conversations and effective pitches.

Elke at NRA Show in Chicago, 2024

I just returned from one of the largest trade shows in the US. As part of the exhibitor team, I had the opportunity to get to know and chat with people from all over the US and beyond. Four days in a row were filled with product demonstrations, conversations, and pitches. It was a great experience – especially for someone like me, who is passionate about communication strategies and helping non-native speakers communicate more effectively in English.


If you’re an exhibitor from abroad, you may be wondering how you can prepare yourself and your team for conversations with diverse US and global audiences. You may be wondering how you can make sure that your team has meaningful conversations in English that yield results. After all, you’re spending a lot of money, and you want to get the most out of your investment.


Here’s my recommendation based on many years of experience: Be curious!

Curiosity Killed the Cat. But Not at the Trade Show.

Curious cat

I’m sure you know the saying – and it’s true. Being too nosy about other people’s affairs can get you in trouble, especially when it lacks cultural sensitivity.


However, when you are networking and selling, as you do at a trade show, a little bit of curiosity can go a long way. The desire to learn more about your potential clients can help you be more effective and successful.

How to Be Curious: Learn. Ask. Learn.


Before the event, find out as much as you can about the people who will likely be attending. Here are just a few of the questions you should explore:

  • What are my potential clients’ interests, needs, and expectations?

  • What do they already know about me and my product?

  • What are some of the cultural differences I should be aware off?


Go into the event with a solid base of knowledge, but don’t let your insights blind you. Understand that you may still be thrown off balance by something unexpected and unknown. Be prepared for the unprepared.



At the event, be curious and engage your counterpart with questions.

  • Ask questions in a friendly and agreeable way.

  • Choose open-ended questions. They yield more information and will give you more data to work with. (Read my blog about open vs. closed questions.)

  • Invite people to share what matters to them and/or their business.

It’s amazing how much you can find out if you shift your focus to your conversation partner and make them the center, rather than yourself or your product.



There’s immense value in tuning into what people share.

  • Listen closely to the answers to discover more about your potential clients’ needs, desires, concerns, and reservations.

  • Use the data from the answers to probe a bit more.

  • Fine-tune your message.

Why is it so hard to listen?

Speaking many languages

We often think of listening as something passive. After all, you don’t really have to “do” anything, right? But actively tuning in is hard work and most of us have some room for improvement when it comes to paying attention.


Here are five obstacles in the way of listening and understanding in a public place.


  1. Noise. By this I mean the actual sounds around you. This is particularly true at a trade show or a meeting in a busy place. There are auditory distractions that can make it hard to focus, such as music, laughing, and other people talking. Apart from that, there may be visual distractions that can cause you to lose concentration.

  2. People. You may be in the middle of a conversation when someone else approaches. That can make it hard to keep your focus on your current conversation partner.

  3. Accent. As you meet with people from diverse backgrounds, you will hear many different accents. Native and non-native English speakers alike can have problems understanding unfamiliar accents, but for non-native speakers, the challenges tend to be a lot greater.

  4. Language. As you listen, you may be distracted by your own thoughts. Again, this tends to be a more acute problem for non-native speakers. In a foreign language, people often use their counterpart’s speaking time to start thinking about what they’re going to say next, thereby limiting the amount of information they can take in.

  5. Culture. Sometimes you pay attention, hear everything, but understand nothing. This can be due to cultural references.

Be Curious and Fine-Tune your Message.

Conversing and pitching at high-stakes events, like trade shows, requires solid speaking skills. But speaking well is not the same as communicating effectively or pitching successfully. Having great conversations with positive outcomes is just as much about being eager to learn and prepared to listen than it is about getting your message across.


Be curious. Ask questions. Learn more about your conversation partner. And when they answer, take the cues they give you to fine-tune your message and determine your next move.


I coach people on how to communicate effectively in English and I can help you prepare for high-stakes events, such as sales presentations and pitches. Contact me for a free exploratory conversation on your needs and goals. I look forward to speaking with you!

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