Influence Your Attendees with Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion

The science of visitor pursuasion

Dr. Robert Cialdini’s Six Principals of Persuasion theory forms the foundation of marketing and exhibiting plans the world over. Our aim here is not to teach you marketing theory, but to get straight into the nuts and bolts of practical application and help you develop an action plan you can use when preparing for your next event or exhibition.

You won’t need a marketing degree – or the thick skin of a salesperson – to make this method work for you. Just the time it’ll take you to finish a coffee while you read this article.

“Our best evidence of what people truly feel and believe comes less from their words than from their deeds.” - Dr. Robert Cialdini

People feel obligated to people in authority. Endorsements can influence uptake by 15 percent.


“People feel obligated to comply with authority figures.”

The science:

Most people are aware of Stanley Milgram’s infamous 1974 study into authority (you know, the one where the person in the white coat asked the participant to electrocute people – and they did).

Another study looked into the effect of authority on sales, here’s how it happened:

A receptionist was asked to share the credentials of the person they were forwarding the call to, for example; “I’m putting you through to Mr. Smith, who has 12 years of experience.” This led to a 20 percent increase in appointments and, most importantly, a 15 percent increase in signed contracts.

Theory into practice:

Hyundai, who have historically struggled to sell their “safe” vehicles to millennials, used the authority of celebrity endorsement to break into the market. After identifying the TV series The Walking Dead as a popular topic within the segment, Hyundai tapped Robert Kirkman – who authored the cult-classic comic book series – to advocate their vehicles at Comic-Con.


If you don’t have a spare celebrity on hand, try setting yourself as an industry authority by hosting a seminar and speaking on a subject. It’s important that you make it clear why you’re an industry authority (certificates, awards etc.) Another option is to introduce your product or service to a well-known industry blogger for a review – you could even ask them to appear on your stand as an advocate. If all else fails, simply make sure your booth staff are wearing a uniform. This immediately paints them as someone knowledgeable about your offerings in the eyes of attendees – just be sure they can actually talk the talk.


“I can’t have it? I want it more!”

The science:

An example serves better than any experiment here: When Coca-Cola announced they were changing their recipe in 1985, there was literally mass hysteria – even after their own blind taste test showed 55 percent of people preferred the new flavor. Protests in the street, $1,000 stockpiles and even protest songs. Today we call this "fear of missing out," or FOMO. It’s a strange phenomenon; even basic products (like sugary soft drinks) appear incredibly attractive when the opportunity to grab them is strictly limited.


FOMO is a strange phenomenon, but an effective tool for marketers.

Theory into practice:

To drive traffic to your stand, have an exclusive offer where attendees get a genuinely great deal if they visit your stand – the simpler the better, no small print. While it’s important to tell your visitors what they stand to gain, it’s even more important to point out what they’re likely to lose.

Displaying stats on how your customers behave can increase uptake by 33 percent.


“People will look to others to determine their own actions.”

The science:

It’s a common sight in hotel bathrooms these days to find a little card reminding you about reusing your towels. A group of researchers used this fairly innocuous card as a basis for their study.

They found that hotel bathrooms with a reminder card increased towel reuse to around 30 percent. To test the theory of consensus, the researchers placed a different card in bathrooms that said “75 percent of our guests reuse their towels, so please do the same”. This minor alteration increased towel reuse to 33 percent.

Theory into practice:

Just like when you’re out looking for a place to eat, you tend to avoid anywhere that’s empty. Exhibitions – and even businesses in general – work the same way. People will avoid investing their time and money in something that’s unproven. Try displaying a statistic about your customers, for example: XX percent use Service Y AND Service Z for a greater (insert benefit).

The trick here is to make your statistics about your customers and their benefits, not about you. It’s ok to say how many customers you’ve successfully delivered to, and their overall satisfaction, but it should take a back seat whenever possible.

Check out this video to see how we used statistics on our stand at Marketing Week Live. It went a little too well – there was a queue!

We’re 90 percent more likely to buy from someone we like.


“If you like the person, you’ll buy from them.”

The science:

According to a study by Nielsen that looked into online purchasing habits, a massive 90 percent of us buy based on the recommendations of people we know. While this doesn’t strictly look at exhibitions, it does highlight how important likable people are in the sales cycle. The phenomenon isn’t exactly new either. Back when Cialdini first wrote his book, he used the example of Tupperware parties to make the point.

Another study, using people who didn’t know each other, found that 90 percent of people came to an agreeable outcome after getting to know each other for a few minutes before starting negotiations – opposed to just 55 percent who jumped straight into negotiations.

Theory into practice:

At an exhibition, chances are you won’t know anyone who visits your stand (unless you invited them, of course), so the key here is to find common ground early on. Try patiently working your way through a couple of ice breakers with your visitor before you start selling. It’s very important that your empathy is genuine, exhibition visitors have had people trying to sell to them all day, so don’t give them any more reason to walk away.

Once you’ve managed to build a rapport with your visitor, you should have some hooks on which to pin your products and services. This would also be the time to use a little reciprocity to get the ball rolling.

45 percent of negotiations fail when parties don’t know each other.


“The obligation to give back what you have received from others.”

Handing out freebies on your stand is less about what you give, but more about how you give it.

The science:

A study into this phenomenon, carried out using waitstaff at a restaurant, found that individuals react to not just what they are given, but how it is given to them.

Here’s the experiment: A waiter hands over the bill, plus a mint, and gets a 3 percent increase in tips. When the waiter gives two mints, the tip rate increased to 14 percent.

But, when the waiter only gives one mint and leaves, then comes back and says, “for you nice people, here’s another,” the tip increased to 23 percent!


Theory into practice:

A quick and easy way to get something out of your visitors is to give them something first. Try starting the conversation with a small bag of sweets or a discount code as an ice breaker. Then, once you’ve chatted and got to know your visitor, hand them another and say, “just because it’s you, have another on me.” At this point, your visitor not only has a freebie they were probably expecting, but something they weren’t as well – this is the time to push for something in return.

"It’s easier to resist at the beginning than at the end." - Leonardo da Vinci


“We have a deep desire to be consistent. Once we’ve committed to something, we’re more inclined to go through with it.”

The science:

Studies show that when someone makes a small initial commitment, it’s easier to convert that interest into something bigger for the sake of consistency.

A safe driving campaign was run between two streets. Both sets of residents from Street A and Street B were asked to display a sign outside their homes to show support for the campaign. At the end of the campaign, Street A had four times more signs displayed than Street B. The reason for the huge difference was the residents on Street A had been asked to display a small postcard in the window of their home 10 days earlier.

Theory into practice:

This isn’t strictly an event example, but there’s nothing stopping it being implemented at a show. Some makeup brands offer free appointments with makeup artists in department stores to get you to trial their products. They offer really helpful advice (the non-brand-specific kind) to build trust into the coming commitment hook, and even give you makeup samples to try at home.

The commitment hook comes at the end when, after they’ve given you a professional makeover, the artist gives you an appointment slip to come back and see them in a week for a review. You’d be surprised how hard it is for people to resist following up, because they feel like they’re wasting the artists time – especially if you make it clear how much it would cost to hire said artist any other day.

You’re four times more likely to upsell after completing a small, introductory sale.

"Where all think alike, no one thinks very much." - Walter Lippmann

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