Trevor Punt, managing director of TBG Group, on the rise of the stereotypical punter and the need for nerves of steel.
Trade show visitors, delegates, guests, tyre kickers, pen pilferers, bag snatchers; call them what you want – the exhibition industry is obsessed by them. The punter.
Synonyms: customer, client, viewer, listener.
1. An ordinary member of the public, especially a customer or a member of an audience.
Use: You may see the punters in venue cafés talking about how gruelling their day was while sipping their lattes and waiting for their 4x4s to cool down.
Without them, an event can triumph or fail, succeed or crash and burn. For the events industry, the punter raises occupancy rates and puts a smile on many a concierge’s face. Economies benefit while services from taxi firms to travel agents, airlines to stand contractors benefit from the punter’s largess.
Through years of promotional dinners, complementary hotel suites and easy press passes, the stereotypical punter will know every strategy in the book to get everything they want including great airline deals, free hotel upgrades, special trade show credentials, private product previews, dodges around annoying registration lines and access to the coolest parties.
You can spot a punter 100 yards away. They’ll laugh at your jokes before you’ve even reached the punch line. They will make you feel guilty if you spend a minute anywhere but with them. But mainly you can spot a punter because most sentences begin with: “Sorry to be a nuisance…”.
The habitat of the punter is normally the hotel lobby, the registration desk, the venue concourse, conference lunches or any bar away from home. They’ll be the solitary soul nursing a half drunk beverage and picking over the salted peanuts for the cashews. Some may have a telephone to their ear while masticating on a Billy-No-Mates pizza. But this is, in general, because they’re trying to let everyone around them think they’ve got someone to talk to.
Most who work with punters, who have had more than their fair share of conversations ending with ‘no problem’, think of themselves as industry survivors.
Some of you may have come across the average punter, who takes on the demeanour of ‘I’m on a jolly’, ‘I’m here on business’, ‘I don’t want to be here’, or ‘I’m too important to be here’.
Punters, normally sane, intelligent leaders of commerce, suddenly fail to know the difference between a.m. and p.m. and show an astonishing lack of awareness encompassing etiquette, manners and political correctness. Battles with them include everything from not knowing how to spell the name of the town they are from, not to mention not knowing how to spell their own name. They are the enemy, they are everywhere and you need cognitive devices for coming to terms with them.
Despite years of experience, those who deal with these people hear things so silly they can’t make it up. They try to explain things that punters do to their friends that they don’t even believe themselves, and just when they think they’ve heard it all, a punter will ask if they can get a free upgrade to a hotel suite or full delegate pass by simply enquiring: ‘Don’t you know who I am?’
Those who come across these types of people need to have nerves of steel and skills with which to direct the lost, correct the wrong, comfort the weary, teach geography and give tutoring in spelling and pronunciation.
Not only that, they’ll have to anticipate with accuracy what the next move of the punter will be, as 75 per cent won’t have anything to write on. Half will not have thought about what they want to talk about, a third won’t know where they’re going and a few won’t care if they get back.
But there is hope for those with punter fatigue. There’s the promise that they’ll become a part of the past and the hope that the next punter at least knows what day it is.