We’ve all come across Chuggers– the ‘Charity Muggers’ that jump out at you as you’re walking down the street on your lunchbreak, and try and engage you in fake friendly banter in a blatant attempt to then persuade you to sign away your dosh to whatever good cause they are working for. A major irritation, I think you’ll agree. So it’s particularly annoying that there seems to be another of these types who are sent to pester us – the ‘Business Muggers’, or… well, you’ve no doubt figured it out, and think it sounds like a rude name.

Rude, yes, but appropriate. I go to various business shows and exhibitions, and inevitably get Bugged to within an inch of my life by over-zealous exhibitors who use just the same chugging tactics to desperately vie for your attention (and business). One or two is bad enough, but running a gauntlet of them as you attempt to walk round a hall full of business stands can be traumatic! At the recent CIPD conference exhibition, I had to peel myself off the ceiling when one guy literally jumped right in front of me and shouted ‘GOOD MORNING!’, as I was walking along looking in the other direction. I was too busy waiting for my heart rate to return to normal and counting the years he’d taken off my life to listen to any of the sales blurb he followed it up with.

Walking through an exhibition hall, you can’t help but feel like you’re walking through some business Red Light district, with every couple of steps bringing you to another person trying to tempt you with their free chocolates and get you to talk to them so they can get their paws on your money. It’s a constant cacophony of ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ ‘Would you like to enter our prize draw for a Kindle?’ ‘So what are you looking for today?’ ‘Do you use training venues/pencils/people/teabags at all?’  Heaven help you if you respond, or even make eye contact, because they’ll keep you there for ages. And with a few hundred stands, it could be days before you make it out of the exhibition hall. I’ve been hassled less in Morrocan market souks.

Often, I am actually interested in seeing what they have to offer – but you can’t pause for a second in front of a booth before getting Bugged, and the same questions thrown at you before you’ve even had the chance to look at their exhibition stand. How do I know if I need their product or service if I don’t know what it is yet? And how can I read the banners and flyers etc. with someone Bugging me by asking what brought me there that morning? (It was the DLR but I don’t see why that matters.)

It is probably the lame attempts at small talk that frustrate me the most. Generally, I don’t want to tell them how my day’s been any more than they actually want to know. And I really don’t want to have the same conversation ninety-twelve times in a day, especially when it’s just explaining that I’m an HR consultant, self-employed, I don’t have any staff, I’m not looking for anything in particular, just browsing for anything that may be helpful to my clients at some point, and if I need any help, I will be sure to ask for it. Maybe I could just get all that printed on a T-shirt (as opposed to simply ‘Leave Me Alone!’) or alternatively get flyers printed to hand out as an anti-Bugging device.

On arrival at a business exhibition, I like to have a peaceful wander round, get a feel for who and what is there, before going back to the stands I’m particularly interested in. So getting Bugged the moment I walk through the door is a real turn-off! When braving the Moroccan markets, it’s best to act blind, deaf and dumb unless there’s something you really REALLY want to buy. Maybe the same tactic would work with Bugg-ers? I’ve tried walking around wearing dark shades and an iPod, but it’s not really doing much for my professional credibility.

I’ve exhibited at conferences before now, and managed to not harass passers-by. I find a simple smile and a hello is enough, then leave them in peace to browse, take information, drop their business card into the bowl, and ask me anything they want to ask – no Bugging necessary. At least I won’t scare people off that way (too much Bugging just makes me want to grab a free keyring and head off at high speed in the opposite direction.)

So if you are a Business Mugger, please try and hold back on Bugging people as soon as they come into view – not only can it be incredibly irritating to the poor bugged person, it can also be counter-productive! Hard sell isn’t always the best option, and if people want to talk to you about your business (or their business, including the state of their health) they will do. Business conferences and exhibitions will be a less stressful experience all round if they’re a Bugger-free zone!

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