If you want to get the most out of the Wednesday, June 4 Central Jersey Business Expo, just study MIDJersey Chamber of Commerce CEO Bob Prunetti when he enters the room. In truth, most of us in business don’t meet, greet, and work a room very well. And while we are fidgeting or putting on an act, a lot of potential benefits drain away. With Prunetti, however, encountering strange folks all seems so casual and natural. He doesn’t talk — he converses. Actually, he chats. He listens and encourages your thought with questions. He builds his ideas off of yours, telling his side of the story in succinct, direct sentences. He freely offers aid and, as he speaks, alliances get built.
Prunetti’s is a talent born of long training. With more than three decades of both business and political leadership in the Garden State, he is a practiced veteran who has refined the art of personally connecting and getting deeds done. In 2010, when the state’s oldest chamber of commerce sought new direction, Prunetti was the natural choice to lead MIDJersey. The chamber’s 10 chapters, ranging from Lambertville to Mount Laurel and from Freehold to Bucks County, embrace a dense hub of finance and technology.
“That’s what makes this year’s Central NJ Expo really exciting,” explains Prunetti. “Because it’s at the newly renovated Grounds for Sculpture, the public will really get a chance to become familiar with all the business ventures in our region.” At 10 a.m., Thursday, June 4, the doors will open on main building of The Grounds for Sculpture and art will blend with commerce. More than 80 Expo exhibitors will display instruments of finance, office furniture, custom software, every conceivable service and implement of business. For further information about attending or exhibiting visit www.centralnjexpo.com. Those seeking a spot in the speed networking event should call 609-689-9960 x 16.
Originally designed by the hosting MIDJersey Chamber as a business-to-business exhibition, the annual Central NJ Expo has been seen as a convivial feeding frenzy where businesspeople can find new vendors, customers, and partnerships. But the very popular and public Sculpture Garden venue in Hamilton adds a strong consumer component. As many as 5,000 visitors are expected to pass through the exhibit hall and the exhibitors must prepare to sift through and seize the potential opportunities.
To help men and women of business take best advantage of this or any conference, we asked Chamber CEO Prunetti to share some of his techniques with those exhibiting and networking. “I’ve been on both sides of the exhibit table,” he says, “and there’s invariably five points of focus that always succeed.”
Build a better backdrop. Exhibitors need to announce colorfully and attractively who they are, and what they have that’s going to help people. “There’s scores of inexpensive, artistic panels available,” Prunetti says, “but you need something arresting enough to break their step and make them pause.”
Always staff the booth. This sounds simple, but too often exhibitors don’t have enough of a crew to allow for people to take a break. Passing by an empty booth instantly gives patrons the idea that this company is half-hearted, and they don’t care. No matter what literature you have on hand, an empty booth is a bad advertisement.
Offer a conversation sparker. “You have to have a gimmick,” says Prunetti. “One of the most effective I’ve seen is to give away something that people have to ask about. Like the little kit of fancy tools. I took it, fussed with it, then asked the man at the booth how to use it. And there I was – engaged in conversation with him.” Any clever gimmick or gift that invites a query makes a far more easy connection than the exhibitor announcing himself and his services to a passing crowd of strollers.
You’ve got 15 seconds. “Make it short, sweet, and arresting,” suggests Prunetti. Whether it’s a video, ive demonstration, or just an elevator-pitch introduction, you have only that first moment immediately following eye-contact to give an individual something that she might either benefit from or enjoy hearing about. It’s smart to script your speech, just don’t make it sound canned or recited.
Dress the part. Costumes may be used as part of a display. Doubtless some exhibitors on the sculpture’s grounds may seek to match the setting in artistic garb. That’s fine, notes Prunetti, but always have at least one person in standard business attire for the patrons to speak with. It’s simply a matter of conversational comfort.
For Chamber CEO Prunetti, the Central Jersey Expo will present one more opportunity to mingle and greet the many people he knows so well in his home stomping grounds. Prunetti proudly calls himself a Trenton boy from birth. He grew up in the capital city with his father working for the city postal service and his mother for Trenton Folding Box Company, just miles from the family home. He attended from Trenton High School, and then graduated from the College of New Jersey, with a Bachelor’s in Political Science in 1975.
“Government was everywhere around us in Trenton,” he recalls. Thus upon graduation it seem natural to find work in the county budget office, while commuting, after work, to New York University to gain a Master’s degree in public administration.
“It was always sort of an accident that I ran for public office,” says the man who served three successful terms as Mercer County executive from 1992 to 2003. “I always enjoyed government service, but I never took hard aim at elective offices.”
Prunetti calls the MIDJersey Chamber of Commerce his full-time job, and fellow staff members attest to his long hours and hands-on approach. Yet in his supposedly spare moments, Mr. Prunetti leads two other thriving enterprises. He still maintains a guiding executive hand in Phoenix Ventures, which he launched in 2004. Originally designed to help developing startups, Phoenix now guides entrepreneurs through every step from drawing up business plans to connecting them with funding sources.
In the final month of 2012, Prunetti helped launch the Miami International Securities Options Exchange. Despite its corporate title, the exchange is based in West Windsor, in the Carnegie Center. “We’ve got options contracts traded from every major corporation,” says Prunetti, and we are probably one of the fastest exchanges you can find anywhere. Our technology was built from scratch by top experts from New Jersey and the old Philadelphia exchange.”
For politician and businessman Prunetti, New Jersey shines as a top business-friendly hub. “Forget taxes. They are a lesser consideration,” says Prunetti. “The two top items that make for a good business environment are regulations, which can make or break commerce, and available talent. And no one can beat the talent we’ve got right here around us in the center of New Jersey.”