Get FREE Trade Show Marketing Tips in Your Inbox! Click Here

18 Hidden Rules of Trade Shows

18 hidden rules of trade showsHidden rules govern almost every area of our lives.  They guide our behavior and expectations, yet are rarely written down for us in neat little books.

For example, there’s the 5 Second Rule:  When a piece of food falls on the floor, you can eat it if you pick it up within five seconds.  There’s the High Heel Rule: if a woman is taller than her date, she is less likely to wear high heels.  And there’s the Full Moon Rule: On days with a full moon, there are more crimes committed and babies born.

Uncover the 18 Hidden Rules of Trade Shows

Trade shows also are governed by similarly hidden, yet immutable rules.  You may have already run up against them without realizing it, or discovered them through arduous experience.  Since forewarned is forearmed, here are 18 hidden rules of trade shows:

  1. The more words you put on your trade show display, the fewer times they will be read.
  2. The larger the crowd of people already in your booth, the more other people will want to visit your booth.
  3. The person who complains the most about the value of trade shows is usually the one who knows (and tries) the least.
  4. The more fun trade show attendees have in your booth during the show, the more serious business you will do after the show.
  5. The effort each booth staffer puts forth increases as the distance between them and their boss decreases.
  6. Your best booth staffers are usually the ones who talk the least and listen the most.
  7. The longer a booth staffer stretches out their break, the fewer leads they will take when they are actually staffing the booth.
  8. The colors of your trade show display will likely be determined by: 1. your brand colors, or 2. the latest design trends or 3. your company president’s spouse.
  9. The length of time to design your exhibit expands exponentially with the number of decision makers involved.
  10. The greater the distance a visitor has traveled to attend a trade show, the higher the level of hospitality you should provide.
  11. Carpet belongs on the floor of your trade show booth, not on the display backwall.
  12. The better-looking the booth staffer’s shoes, the more likely the staffer will complain about sore feet.
  13. The more years you exhibit at the same show, the more you will have repeat customers visit you in your booth.
  14. The more the trade show leads holder looks like a trash can, the more likely your booth captain will end up screaming.
  15. The bigger the main visual image on your trade show exhibit, the clearer people will understand your message.
  16. The older your trade show display, the less innovative your booth visitors will perceive your company.
  17. The more aisle space bordering your booth, the more opportunities your staffers have to engage with attendees.
  18. The faster you follow up your trade show leads, the greater the sales you will generate from that show.

Now that these hidden rules have been revealed to you, may you enter your next show hall with the open eyes of a seasoned exhibitor.  And if you’ve discovered your own hidden rules of trade shows, please, please, please share them with us in the comment box below.  There’s no rule against it!

What's Working In Exhibiting White Paper We’ve hidden the secrets of trade show success in plain sight: Get for your free copy of our 32-page white paper report, What’s Working In Trade Show Exhibiting by clicking here.

About the Author

Mike Thimmesch is the Principal at Thimmesch Marketing. For over 25 years, he has created and implemented innovative marketing, lead generation, and exhibiting strategies that profitably grow company sales and brand awareness. Mike rose to Director level at Skyline Exhibits, where he helped generate over a half million leads, resulting in over $1 billion in sales. He published 11 industry white papers and eight exhibiting books, presented over 100 trade show webinars, and wrote over 200 exhibit marketing blog posts.

28 responses to “18 Hidden Rules of Trade Shows

  1. Great list, here’s a couple more:

    19) The greater personal value your booth give-away has, the more leads that you will receive that are not sales-ready. Quality buyers are attracted to things that have professional value (think e-book, whitepaper, etc.).

    20. The more ubiquitous wifi and cell phone coverage become, the less the signal will be in the convention center.

    1. Thanks for the welcome add-ons, Dave. And thanks for the tweet about the blog post.

      Do you think that the wifi coverage within a convention center could get so weak (from being shared so much) that exhibitors who have been saving a thousand dollars by using their own wifi instead of the show’s internet connection will have to go back to the show?

    1. Hello Carrie,

      Thanks for the rule. You are so right! We just did a webinar called “The 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Exhibiting” and one of those 10 things was “Poor Planning Will Blow Your Budget.” Not only do you pay more for your show services when you miss their deadlines, but you get rush charges and higher shipping, airfare, and hotel costs. It adds up to a very pretty penny.

  2. 1. Never stand in your booth, with you arms folded in front of you! This stance almost says: (I dare your to step in to our booth!”
    2. Never sit down in your booth.
    3. Always smile when making eye contact with any attendees walking by your booth. (A smile doesn’t cost a penny, and does wonders.)

  3. Thanks, great info I would like to share with my exhibitors in an Exhibitor newsletter I publish – may I have your permission to copy your article?

    1. Dana,

      Yes, you may share this with your exhibitors, as long as you provide attribution, which includes Skyline Exhibits, my name, and a link back to the article or the blog itself. Thank you for sharing this with your exhibitors!

  4. Hello Mike,

    Troy Milligan here, I’m the trade show magician from Tradeshow Supermarket.

    Thanks for the great article!

    I’d like to share this link with my students. I teach a program for trade show performers and this could help them better understand what exhibitors need to deal with.

    Let me know if you are okay with that…

    Kind Regards,

    1. Hello Paul,

      Yes, you can republish it on your blog. Just give credit to Skyline Exhibits, to me as the author, and a hyperlink to the original article. There will likely be more comments .. and more rules.. coming over the next few months!

  5. Mike:

    My first rule is do not launch into your canned pitch as soon as a prospect enters the booth. They have taken the time to stop in, so take the time to find out what problem they have in their business, and suggest how you can solve it with your products or services.

  6. Rule #next: If it is about noon and you have prudently ordered the hall caterer to deliver your lunch to the booth, you will most likely miss EVERY opportunity to sell to EVERY attendee passing by if you choose to eat in your booth. EAT SOMEWHERE ELSE!!! Stagger staff assignments to allow SOMEONE to focus on why you are there, not what’s for lunch.

  7. You have approximately 3 seconds to convey WHAT YOU SELL to the average fast paced buyer at the show. In this time frame your message MUST be clear, otherwise you have lost a potential sale.

    I often walk, at a buyers pace, through the Trade Shows and give my 3 second assesment. It is amazing to me how many Booths i simply cannot make out What it is they are selling??

  8. Trade Show Organisers need this RULE. Please, PLEASE show the COMPANY NAME in bold capital letters on the top line of the NAME BADGE and the persons name underneath it in capitals/lower case.

    In the 3 seconds you have to invite someone into your Booth, you need to know primarily WHAT IS THERE BUSINESS, i do not want to waste my 3 seconds with a company which has no need of my product!

    1. Might I humbly suggest that no one is a waste of time… especially in these days of social media. Even if they aren’t in the same line of business, you NEVER know who might ‘pay it forward’ and give you great referrals, just cuz you didn’t treat them as a ‘waste of time’. Just sayin’…

  9. Once i have determined that i have a potential buyer in my Booth i always ask the GOLDEN QUESTION. “Is there something specific YOU are looking for to enhance YOUR business”.

    Make it about THEM not you. It is amazing how people like talking about what they need as opposed to being told what they could use. Tailor your response to what they just told you.

    1. Graham,

      I use a very similar question, “What are you looking for at the show?” with great success. A few good open-ended questions will encourage people to tell you their story. You’ll end up with even more than you get from asking them a bunch of checklist questions, and even more importantly, you’ll build a relationship. Thanks for all your comments.

  10. I disagree with Carrie, we’ve often gone into tradeshows at relatively last minute – in this instance Top Drawer. We’ve got another 2.5m for free whereas it costs £196 per sq.m ordinarily. We’ve frequently been offered really good deals, up to half price, another stand for nothing, free electrics – as sweeteners. So booking early is not necesarily a rule of thumb I’d follow. Depends if you are a good negotiator as our boss really is!

    1. Hello Lilly,

      You may be able to negotiate concessions from the show producer on the booth space. But then you may have to pay more to get your new exhibit built (rush charges), faster shipping, overtime hours on I&D (because you didn’t get your exhibit to advanced warehouse far enough ahead of the show), plus pay for more expensive airfare and hotel rates.

      Those extra late costs can overwhelm the savings on booth space you may get by waiting to commit.

      It just depends on just how much you save from the show, how late you wait, how big your exhibit property is, and how expensive the travel will be.



  11. Hi Mike

    Great piece – and here’s another can-I-please-reproduce request, this time from the UK, for a magazine called Business Insider. Obviously I’ll give full accreditation…

    All the best


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Stay Up To Date