Attending dog shows as a dog breeder or fancier is a tough one. If you are a newbie, the ordeal may even seem insurmountable. It will take a few experiences in order for you to perform at your best social skills. However, apply these simple and actionable tips to save yourself some time and speed up the process!
Whether you are going to a small local dog show or the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the situations are practically the same. These tips, below, are valid in any pet exhibition, or dog show. Some of you will probably apply them to any type of social gathering.
And please, once you finish reading, buy your ticket for the nearest and soonest dog-related event and start networking!
Contact Exhibitors Beforehand
“Failing to plan is planning to fail,” they say, and it couldn’t be any truer.
As a reputable dog breeder, you must absolutely put together a comprehensive list of all exhibitors attending the show. Building that list is the easy part, though. Most dog shows and pet exhibitions will have that available on their website — probably not in a spreadsheet, but definitely listed in some sort of directory.
Once the list is ready, go ahead and get in touch with every single company, brand, breeders, handler, judge, and anybody else worth meeting up with. It’s not about selling them something or getting something from them, it’s about building a network.
Liaising with brands is trickier since you don’t get to talk to the actual representatives who will be attending the show. But ask for the right contact’s twitter handle, or email, and speak to them that way. It’s a lot less intrusive and yields a great response rate.
Ask each attendee you manage to speak to about a formal or informal meeting; don’t be too needy or heavy, just quickly introduce yourself and try to arrange something for the D-Day.
Have a Drink or Two Upon Arrival
If you are anything like me, you will feel completely tetanized as soon as you step into the dog show’s venue. It’s the crowd, the noise, the density, the people grouped together, I don’t know, it just makes it hard for me to feel good. Especially if I am there completely on my own.
Find a way to loosen up, look more sociable, and a lot less antipathic. If you don’t look confident and approachable, people won’t even bother connecting with you. You may have a lot to talk about and so much knowledge to share, but your front door has to be clean and welcoming.
A great way to fix this uneasiness is to down a couple of drinks very quickly, back to back. These should get you going and remove the apprehension we all have, even if at different levels.
Break The Ice Using The Dogs
Starting a conversation with somebody you never met before can be tricky. Talking about the weather would be too cliché, and conversation about the event itself is very unoriginal.
The igniter is right here, under your nose (or snout): use dogs to trigger those first seconds of conversation! And then, when everybody is feeling more comfortable, you can divert the conversation towards more relevant topics. Make sure you ask what the person is interested in and working in, chances are they will ask the same question in return.
Engage With Lonely People
Alright, so you’re alone in the venue, and like at every big gathering, there are a lot of groups but also a lot of singletons. These lonely people are just like you, hoping to connect with like-minded dog fanciers. What are you waiting for?
Up to you how you want to handle it:
- direct — «hey, just saw you alone so I thought I would come and say hi!»
- indirect — «hey, do you know where I can find XYZ here?! it’s my first event and I feel a little lost…»
Regardless, speak to them and get to know them.
Set Yourself Measurable Objectives
For newbies attending their first or second dog show, falling back on a lazy mattress is easy. “Oh, I’m just going to get familiar with dog shows this time, and the next one I’ll get talking!”
Disastrous! If you want to get good at connecting with fellow breeders and other attendees, you must speak to people, a lot or just a few is up to you, but you cannot just “wait and see next time.”
The best way to tackle this pernicious refuge is, the evening before the show, to sit down and count how many attendees there are, and decide on how many you can realistically speak to. When you have this fair number, double it. Drive your ambitions higher so even if you fail, you’ll still achieve reasonably enough.
On the day of the event, set three or four alarms (morning, lunch, afternoon and early evening) to make sure you are on the way to successfully reach that goal.
If you become very good at talking to people and actually love it, having measurable goals will prevent you from sticking with the same few contacts you do love speaking to.
Smile and Eye Contact
Professor Mehrabian combined the statistical results of the two studies and came up with the now famous—and famously misused—rule that communication is only 7 percent verbal and 93 percent non-verbal. The nonverbal component was made up of body language (55 percent) and tone of voice (38 percent).
“The 7% rule: fact, fiction, or misunderstanding“, Philip Yaffe
The percentages used in this study are clearly overly exaggerated but you get the gist. There is so much more than just words in communication: put your nicest smile on and keep your head up. It’s time to give the best eye contacts ever.
No dialogue will start without a gentle eye contact so make sure you look at every single person. Don’t over do it, you’ll risk being a little too creepy. Be present and aware of who is also looking at you, smiling at you, and always smile back. Always.
A lot of newbies get very shy and subconsciously tend to avoid the gaze of others, it’s easier to ignore people than have the courage to put yourself out there.
Be Concise and Avoid Small Talk
Stress, anxiety, apprehension… There are so many things that may hinder your fluency with those strangers. No need to overthink the whole situation, and you will definitely get better with practice. Very few are the natural communicator and they do deserve an award for their skills, because I am still getting better at each opportunity I get.
At dog shows or pet exhibitions, there is a constant stream of people moving, stopping at a corner, engage with the brand’s rep, and keep moving. The worst mistakes you could possibly make in such a conversation is to spend too much time delivering small talk. The brand rep, breeder, judge, mentor, or whoever the person is, has very little time at hand and numerous other people to exchange with.
Unless you are speaking with a visitor, be concise and avoid fluff talk. Break the ice, ask an empty question (about a product the brand sells, for example) and move the conversation to more substantial matters. It’s time to introduce yourself and learn as much as possible about your interlocutor’s needs, likes, hates, and future projects.
Oh and… make sure you take the person’s contact details! Business cards aren’t that common anymore, especially with non-professionals like dog breeders, handlers, and other breed experts.
Personalize Your Follow Ups
We have all heard, or seen in movies, that douchebaggy guy who saves phone numbers of girls using the place they met as name. Let’s keep on hating this guy but the idea is great, especially when you are yielding dozens of phone numbers and contact details in a day or two.
Save them with just name and number and you are heading for a disaster. Let’s be truthful here: you won’t remember them all (you’ll probably forget most of them.) And when you message somebody you literally don’t remember anything about, you go along those lines:
Hello John, I’m Henry and we met yesterday at Crufts. It was great meeting you and hope we can connect in the future!
And, do you know what this message looks like? Pretty much all of the messages John has received the day after the event.
So, when you save the contact, take half a minute just to add useful pieces of information for tomorrow’s follow up (not just the company they work for…):
- Extremely unusual outfit — “Keep on rocking the yellow tie, ha!”
- New invention — “Really loved your twist on the average dog collar!”
- Story they told you about — “I’m still laughing at your story with the cow…”
You get it… Just take note of something special, ideally pertaining to whatever both of you share in common (dogs, or something more narrow), and mention it the next day in your message.
The results? You will stand out from the crowd and grab your contact’s attention. In turn, they will remember you. From then onwards, the conversation can flow with no awkwardness at all.
Give a Lot, First
Start thinking, while they speak, at how you can help them. Never ask for a favor first instead, provide them with so much value upfront that you are guilt-tripping them into giving back. This is a great thesis that is detailed in Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, by Gary Vaynerchuk..
Really, I hope this post will give you that little push that most introverts and inexperienced attendees need to not waste a single occasion in public. Just go, get yourself in the mood (a drink, a song, whatever it takes) and start talking to people. Own your experience.