Best Conversation Starters for Selling Art at Shows

starting a conversation how to sell art at shows

Best, Easy, Effective Conversation Starters for Potential Buyers at Art Shows

If you’re like many people, and not just artists, it can be difficult to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know. When you’re trying to sell that person something, the difficulty can be compounded. We’re not all terrific salespeople, nor do we all have the gift of gab. However, when you have a booth at an art fair or an art show, you will need to know how to talk with people (not at people) and when to leave potential buyers to their own thoughts. Here are a few conversation starters for potential buyers at art shows.

1. “Hello.” It’s one of simplest greetings, and yet when paired with an enthusiastic smile, it can bring out another smile and similar greeting in response. A greeting that sounds forced, bored or obligatory will not have the same effect. Greet everyone who stops to peer into your booth and you may be rewarded with a sale. Most people don’t have a problem getting past this point in a conversation, but what comes next can cause them to falter.

2. “Are you enjoying the show?” This is a good opening, as it almost always starts a conversation off on a positive note. After all, few people will say, “No, it’s a terrible show, with terrible artists and I shouldn’t have wasted my time coming here!” – although, some days it might seem as if these are the only type of people you interact with. This lead-in will often give you more information about what they are looking for, whether they are only looking right now or if they are actually seeking to buy. For example, they may say they haven’t seen much in the line of landscapes or Impressionism. Perhaps that’s what you offer. So much can come from this simple conservation starter.

3. “What a beautiful handbag! The color matches the water in my painting.” Ok, so this may sound a bit cheesy, but it will draw the woman’s eyes to your painting. She will then start to glance around to see if other pieces of your work interest her. Everyone appreciates a compliment now and then, too.

4. “What does this piece say to you?” This is often a way to get a conversation started with someone who is already in your booth and who seems to be thinking about one piece over another. It’s a question commonly heard at art shows, but you should use it sparingly. Working your way around your booth and asking everyone this question would likely take away some of its appeal. Make your question sincere because you really want to know. People know when someone is being real or phony. Be your honest, curious self for the best results.

5. “Hey, Steelers.” Sports teams. Go Jets, Cavs, Astros, Sooners or whoever. Yes, it’s trite and a bit lame. However, sports team apparel is a multi-billion-dollar industry and it seems like just about everyone has an old favorite in their closet. If you can muster up the enthusiasm to show you’re a fan of a rival team, go for it. It’s all about getting people’s attention and making them feel as though they know you. It might not be sports. Just learn to observe and then react if you have an authentic reaction and a bit of knowledge to go on. Or, ask questions because you don't know. "I'm not current with football. How are the Cowboys doing this year?" 

6. Say nothing. Many exhibitors will tell you that they don’t say anything until someone steps into their booth – unless someone has gone out of his or her to start a conversation. While this may not work for some artists, it could be just what you may need. One man said it wasn’t about speaking. It was all about “the nod.” It was the unspoken form of communication, an acknowledgment that opens the door for more interaction if either party so wishes. Just be ready to speak use body language that says you are open to help, converse or answer questions.

7. Say nothing #2. Simply work. While some art fairs and shows will not allow this during exhibits, others will. You can easily lure in potential buyers if you are creating a piece as they pass by. It’s one of the best conversations starters out there. Some people will be afraid to bother you, but you will also have the opportunity to listen in on what is being said. For instance, you might hear, “This artist really loves bright colors.” Obviously, this is not something you haven’t heard before, but you can stop what you are doing and say, “You’re right! I do love bright colors.” This not only acknowledges the person’s observations, but it can boost the person’s ego just a bit. You’ve said he or she was right – and what person doesn’t love to hear that. Follow your remark with, “Here’s why I love bright colors….” As your conversation continues, you can show other pieces of your work to the potential buyer and begin to judge his or her interest in making a purchase.

8. Are you from around here, or just visiting? This question invites for more information. You can take it many directions with follow ups. “What other shows do you attend around here? Can you recommend some local galleries or museums to visit in the area?” If they are not local, you can ask about where they live and what the art scene is like in their locale.

9. Can you help me? This one will almost always come off as a bit of a surprise because it’s unlikely anyone else is asking for help. You can request a recommendation for anything local. A different place to stay on your next show, or what are the restaurants favored by the locals. If you feel comfortable, ask them for their opinion about something in your booth. “I’m not sure about how I have arranged this art. Do you think I should swap piece A with piece B?” Think about what you are comfortable asking and practice so it comes out naturally.

Starting a conversation is really about making someone feel as though he or she is welcome to enter your booth and look at what you have to offer. A “hard” sales technique is not likely going to help most exhibitors, and that isn’t something most people are comfortable with anyway. Finding what you are comfortable with is what’s important and what will lead to the art fair and show sales you seek.