Five top tips for engaging people on a stand
“Can I sell you a book you’ll never read?”
This opening question from a fellow stallholder to a guest at Spring Harvest a few years ago pulled me up short. “How on earth are you going to engage anybody like that?” I thought.
Christian festival resource hubs or market zones are all about engagement. As an exhibitor you have a few square metres (level and dry, if you’re lucky) to set your ministry out and then a few seconds to engage with people before they pass by.
As we at Christian TEFL are in between New Wine and Greenbelt this summer, launching our new Enter English course for families helping Ukrainian refugees, I thought I’d pen a few lines on how resource hubs can be a source of refreshment, and how to make the best of meeting people who stop by the stand. So, if you are volunteering on a stand, or leading one yourself, these are my five top tips for engaging people, staying awake and enjoying the resource hub or marketplace experience.
1. It’s a marathon, not a sprint
These events can be two days or two weeks, or longer. Some people are so enthusiastic, they talk so much that they lose their voice on the first day.
Take things steady and plan some breaks, because most of the time you’re on your feet talking to people, which is really tiring! My extra tip; don’t take sweets for your stand, especially if you’ve got a sweet tooth. You’ll just eat them all and everybody else’s. Sugar highs and lows are not your friend – fruit and water are the best bets for a healthy and productive you!
2. Love thy neighbour
Make friends with your neighbours. Learn about their ministries and, if appropriate, offer to pray with them. It’s a great way of building relationships for the Kingdom. You may not see that stand or person again for many years, but hopefully you will meet them again in the Kingdom one day.
I’ve been wonderfully blessed through prayer and practical help from those around me, particularly when I was new to exhibiting. So look for ways to help, support and enjoy each other’s company.
3. Engage, engage, engage
Think about how you’re going to engage with people who pass by.
What is it about your set up that’s going get them to stop and engage with you, pick up a brochure or do something on your stand?
It’s always a good idea to have an activity that engages people visually or gives them something to do, while you tell the about your ministry. At New Wine we had a simple competition to guess the number of pebbles in the jar. This links into our theme of helping refugees learn English. Often the first thing an asylum seeker might see are pebbles if they arrive on the shoreline of the UK by boat.
At Greenbelt we have a bit more space, so we will be teaching a few phrases of a foreign language in our tent. In this way people can begin to understand what it might be like being a refugee coming to the UK and not speak English. This is how we help churches and hosts housing refugees to reach out.
4. But first, ask…
It’s actually not about you. I think the most important thing I’ve learned over my years is to make the stand experience about the visitor.
Take time to find out where they are in life, what they’re doing and what they’re engaged in at their church. A few moments of this is important because this will help you steer the conversation along the right path, saving you time, effort and potentially leading to a clearer outcome.
A good opening question might be “What have you seen that’s inspired you today?”
If they say “Your stand looks interesting…” you’re off to a good start…
5. Make the most of every opportunity
Most of us go back to routine jobs or studies, so exhibiting or volunteering on a stand is a real opportunity to enjoy a change. Being part of something bigger and seeing what God is doing in this place is an amazing experience. We might also discover areas that the Lord is calling us to in the future!
So those are my five simple tips if you are volunteering at an event this summer. Do you have any others? Answers in the comments below!
Now where’s that copy of that book I haven’t read yet?
(NB: I won’t share who the “Can I sell you a book you’ll never read?” line came from, but if you are around the Christian festival scene you might still hear him using it. I thought it a great way of engaging people; the one I most remember. Actually, the book in question wasn’t meant to be read by the stand visitor. It was to be purchased and given away to someone living in a challenging setting, in real need of light, love and inspiration.)