It’s Friday afternoon and you’re on your way to the first show you’ve ever participated in. If your extra lucky you have someone who loves you no matter what (wife, husband, mother, father, child) sitting beside you and ready to help with the work once you get there. Your inventory is carefully packed, the display is well gone over, the box with price tags, scotch tape, scissors and anything else you think you might need is right behind your seat. Or so you think! Once you get to the show you realize you left behind every carefully packed accessory you thought you might need. This is when it’s really important that if you have anyone with you, they love you unconditionally! Your temper flares at your own stupidity as you wonder incredulously how you ever put your shoes on each day when you can’t even remember to put a little box in the van. But somehow all the frustration you feel about yourself gets transposed to the wonderful person who isn’t just along for the ride, but to help you on the road to success.

Here’s what to do if this hypothetical situation actually happens in your life. RELAX!!! Have you just been diagnosed with cancer? Have you just lost the love of your life? You might if you don’t calm down. Did your house just burn down or your dog run away? I didn’t think so. What you’re really getting upset about here just doesn’t matter in the big picture of life and can be solved much easier than you can imagine. All it takes is opening up your mouth and letting someone around you know that you need a hand.
One of the most wonderful things about this crazy business we’re in is the incredible generosity of our fellow exhibitors. Need price tags? Mention it to the person setting up next to you and you’ll be offered four different kinds before you can ask directions to the closet convenience store. Need some scotch tape, duct tape, packing tape or a cassette tape? Ask one exhibitor and you’ll have every kind of tape known to man offered to you within a matter of minutes either by them or the twenty other people that they happen to be good friends with at this show. This same manner of helping out holds true for flat heads, phillips heads, hammers, crow bars, and flashlights. I’ve seen this kindness in action hundreds of times at shows in every type of location – small towns, big cities, fairgrounds and shopping center parking lots. This universal “lend a hand” mentality goes a long way towards helping all of us stay sane.

How about the ego jitters? Are they gnawing at your stomach and making your intestinal tract do things you didn’t think were possible? What if everyone hates my stuff? What if I don’t sell anything? What if the judges tell me I need to stick to bookkeeping for a living and leave the canvas for those that know what to do with it? These things are not going to happen. It’s pointless to worry about them because if your work wasn’t any good you wouldn’t have been accepted into the show. For the most part the people putting the show on know what the crowds that frequent their event like. If the crowds like country crafts and that’s what sells well – that’s what the people running the show will allow to participate. If it’s a fine art show where the type of customer shopping there is looking for original art then that’s what will be chosen to fill the show. As far as selling goes – there are good days and there are not so good days. The hard part is to not get tricked into believing your work isn’t adequate just because you happen to be in a slow selling show. Keep your attitude positive and talk to your customers. Be yourself. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t just because you think that’s what people expect an artist to be like. There is no mold and that’s another part of the beauty of this business. Architects, store clerks, plumbers and housewives all become artists and craftsmen. People with no formal training can be as successful as people with college degrees. No where is “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” more evident than at an art show. So RELAX!!! Your work is fine!

Are you worried that you won’t be able to keep doing this business? That you won’t be profitable enough or you won’t be able to keep making inventory or setting up and packing up will be too hard or that you won’t be able to talk to customers or any other number of little things to panic about. You’ve already done the hardest part. You’re part of an exclusive group of individuals that has what it takes to put together the inventory, come up with a display, seek out a show and hit the road towards independence. The steepest part of your journey has already been walked. Now you just have to maintain your stride and not lose sight of your goal. The same determination that helped you build that inventory will help you build your business. The same creativity that flowed from your hands to produce your work will give you the ideas you need to start conversations with customers and let them know what went into your art or craft.

Once again the people around you will come to your assistance. Ask the experienced person next to you how to get the money out of the customers hand and into your pocket and chances are you’re going to feel like you’re in Sales 101. If you aren’t sure about packaging or set up or anything else, ask for another opinion. Most people don’t mind and feel proud that they can offer you some insight to success. It’s amazing the things you can learn from your fellow exhibitors. This holds true for the seasoned exhibitors too. I’ve been party to more than one brain-storming conversation and there’s nothing more stimulating than good conversation with others in the same profession.

Remember, the most important thing you can do to get over first show jitters is to relax. You’re not trying to solve the problems of mankind, you’re not performing brain surgery, you’re not speaking in front of a crowd of 20,000 people, you’re trying to start a business and you’re doing the best job you possibly can. No one can ask any more than that.
Almost anyone reading this magazine has experienced first show jitters and almost everyone has overcome them. It’s probably the biggest reason there are so many helping hands willing to be lent at every show. And for those of you who haven’t quite gotten over them – get on with it! We need YOUR help too!!!