There are rock-solid principles every exhibitor should know and live by to successfully participate in (international) trade fairs. Here are 11 golden rules for you to keep in mind.

1. A trade fair is a communication tool

Most exhibitors do not close deals at a fair. Rather than selling on the spot, the purpose of their participation is the influencing of target group visitors using effective communication. Therefore, effective communication must be the guiding principle for your trade fair participation.

2. Win the heart, convince the brain

People communicate to make others adopt ideas or adapt behaviour. As there is a natural resistance to change the others will apply filters to your communication, both emotionally as well as well rationally. It is important to know that emotion precedes logic and that emotion is a powerful filter.

When designing your trade fair communication, you therefore define:

  1. What your target visitors must FEEL
  2. What your target visitors must KNOW
  3. What your target visitors must WANT
  4. What your target visitors must DO.

TIP: Always design your communication from the end-result backwards. Start with the DO and work your way back to the FEEL.

3. Play to win

Obviously, you do not participate in trade fairs to shrink your business. On the contrary, like any exhibitor, you participate in trade fairs to increase or strengthen your business. Trade fair participation is like playing the finals of a tournament. In the finals, a draw is not a possible outcome. You either come out the winner or the loser. What if you would not come out the winner from your trade fair participation? What would you have lost then?

Of course, you would say you had lost time and money. Very true, but that is the least of your worries. You’ll probably get over it. Much worse, however, is that you have lost opportunities! Opportunities to grow your business. Opportunities moreover, that may have been seized now by others and that will not easily come back to you anymore. When playing the finals, you are playing to win: tactics and performance go hand in hand.

4. Three critical success factors

When participating in a trade fair, you have many different tasks to take care of, and there are numerous aspects to consider. Each of them impacts the result, but cannot individually be regarded to be the decisive factor for success. It is the sum of all things to do and manage – before, during and after the fair – that determines your success. As such, there are three critical success factors for trade fair participation.

  1. Your pre-fair preparation
  2. Your on-site performance
  3. Your post-fair round-off.

5. Never on automatic pilot

Participating on automatic pilot is out of the question. You find yourself at the frontline of doing business in an arena filled with companies that compete with you for the attention, interest and preference of potential and existing buyers.

Participating in the same way you always do, or in the same way as the other exhibitors do, is a dead-end street for your trade fair success. Each of your trade fair participations must be tailored and dedicated to achieving specific action with the visitors you are targeting.

6. Stand out from the crowd

The best way to attract attention is to stand out from the crowd. As attention is the step-up to interest, make sure to present yourself and perform differently from others when at the trade fair. This applies not only to your stand presentation but also, and above all, to your stand behaviour and the experience that you give your visitors. People remember and connect to how you made them feel –  it’s even more important than what you tell them.

7. Build your on-site communication with AIDA

Since a trade fair is a communication tool, the recipe for success lies in effective communication. On-site, there are numerous elements that radiate messages: your logo, slogan, graphics, stand layout, stand design, decorations, products, people, colours and so on. Each of these elements can make or break your communication. How do you decide on what and how to communicate, and how do you align the elements in your on-site communication? The world’s oldest, and very simple marketing-communication model – AIDA –  is the perfect answer to these questions.

  1. attract Attention
  2. raise Interest
  3. create Desire
  4. evoke Action.

8. Focus + the right instruments = ROI

When it comes to trade fair participation, Return on Investment (ROI) is the result of a combination of focus and the right instruments. Focus clearly and concretely on who you want to appeal to and on the proposition you want to make them. Then select the right instruments and use them in the right way to get their attention and raise their interest. 


Keep It Short and Simple. With a glance at your stand, your target group visitors must instantly see and understand your messages.


What’s In It For Me? Not only should your target visitors instantly see and understand your messages, but your proposition should also instantly trigger their business drivers. Positively answer the WIIFM-question that is on their minds when they scan your stand.

11. The trade fair success formula

The last golden rule is the trade fair success formula:

Reach x Contacts x Meetings x Follow-up   (Source: Live Communication Research Centre, Waardemodel voor Beursdeelname)

The better you can REACH your target group visitors, the better it is.  The more CONTACTS you establish with your target group visitors, the better it is. The more and better MEETINGS you have with the contacts you made, the better it is. Finally, the more effectively you engage after the fair in FOLLOW-UP on the opportunities you managed to create at the fair, the better it is. Determine upfront a plan of value carriers to the each of the formula-components. Allocate responsibilities and manage the execution of the value carriers well.



Published: 1 December 2021

Author: Ton Willemse, international business consultant

Intraservice BV, Nederland


Also read:

AIDA for trade fair participation©

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