Here's the Scenario...
You're at a trade show. Out of town. It's probably an unfamiliar city. Maybe overseas. Lots of strangers. There's a client or two. A couple of buddies. Lots of opportunities to do business. Lots of opportunities to get yourself in a bind.
This Commentary is about how to stay out of trouble, save your dignity and keep your job.
Trade shows are hard work - both physically and emotionally. It's tiring to travel. Hard to be away from home. Boring to be pleasant and smile for hours. And, a blow to the ego when people ignore you, don't respond to your comments, look the other way when passing your booth, or just say "no" to your offer.
There's pressure to produce. Talk with prospects. Entertain clients. Look for partners. Scout out the competition. Get the business. And, increasingly because of technology - e-mail, e-fax, cell phones - keep up with your "real" job at the same time. So, it's easy to fall into the traps of your normal stress reducers - the inter-relationships of sex, drugs & rock-n-roll.
The Lectures and the Tips...
I call these behaviors - Things your mother taught you not to do, but since you're away and you think nobody knows you, you can get away with them. Sorry, somebody does know. And that's you.
Sex - Ah, how nice it is to be loved. Or at least enjoyed for a short period. The temptations and availability of anonymous sex are high when you're away plus there's the chance to have a rendezvous with a co-worker, client or other business acquaintance. Magic moments fizzle fast when the sun comes up. Remember, your life is longer than the trade show.
Drugs - Does your company have a policy that allows you to buy, sell and use illegal drugs? Doubt it. You are on company time from the moment you leave your home until you return. Not only do you endanger your career and industry reputation, you run the risk of breaking US and foreign laws. Jail? Not a nice experience. Note that the U.S. Embassy cannot bail you out if you break foreign laws.
Are you traveling with legitimate prescription drugs? Keep them with you in the original bottles with the pharmacist's labels, keep a written copy of the prescription details in another location (in case you lose the vials and need refills). And most importantly, don't double up doses because you feel ill or uncomfortable. Check with your physician before you leave in case you have a minor emergency. This is especially true if you have allergies, a heart condition or use mood levelers. For example doubling tranquilizers may calm you to the point of stupor.
Rock-n-Roll - Hey, it's Party Time. Free beer. Free booze. Lots of great food. Music to rock by. Business is on a roll. You're king of the hill and queen for a day, you're entertaining and being entertained. What a life!
With some clients and in some cultures, you're expected to indulge in Party Time behavior. Drink a lot. It's OK to get drunk. Cozy up to the hostesses. Let your hair down and have a good time. Party hardy. Here's a secret - You can still be pleasant, have a good time and stay sober.
Why be a prude when party opportunities abound? Because you're smart. You know alcohol loosens lips. Your hosts are now willing to brag about their business - details on the newest product, personnel shifts, corporate goals and insider gossip. If you're sloshed, you won't remember. If you're drinking club soda with lime, you will.
Conversely, when you're drinking, you may trash your boss, reveal company secrets, ask the wrong person for a favor and be generally boastful and obnoxious. You'll be memorable for all the wrong reasons.
When sober, you're smarter because you're gathering critical market intelligence - information to get you ahead of your competition and be a leader in industry trends. Remember, at a trade show and all surrounding events, you are what people perceive as Your Company. How you act is how people view your firm.
There are ways to avoid these traps. Here are perfectly legitimate excuses for not indulging in wayward behavior, but you have to make the rational decision to use them.
Think first of your health. Anything you knowingly do that endangers the health of you and your family is stupid, and hard to explain. Keep the wedding band on. Be polite and say no. The major VD's are still around, though treatable. But as global travel expands, new viruses and diseases are popping up and transmuting. Besides the emotional trauma associated with sexual escapades, the health risks are just not worth it.
Understand your corporate policies from using drugs to paying bribes to accepting gifts. What's standard at the office, applies away from the office. If you don't know your policies, ask before you go. Better be safe than sorry.
Examine your religious beliefs and laws. Adultery is a big sin in most religions. So are lying, cheating and stealing. We all want to do business with people who are trustworthy. It's your responsibility to demonstrate that.
Trust your gut. If you're uncomfortable in a situation, get out. Whether it's physical danger or an emotional jolt, your intuition is your best guide.
You can say "No, thanks." Because of health, corporate policy, beliefs and intuition. But the main reasons is because you're a trustworthy person.
Julia O'Connor - Speaker, Author, Consultant - is an expert in the psychoology of the trade show environment. As president of Trade Show Training, inc. she counsels clients around the country about staff selection, behavior and results for trade shows.