There are few things worse than spending countless hours (and wasting a bunch of money) getting an event ready only to have a bad turnout. Meager attendance and lots of empty chairs are the bane of every committee chair’s existence, and we thought a handy list of ways to improve attendance would be a welcome topic.
Of course, not every idea we have will work for every event, but you can apply those that fit what you’re trying to accomplish.
One important point to keep you sane as the event date looms closer – 1/2 of event registrations or RSVPs occur within 2 weeks of the event date. That’s 1/2 half! So don’t worry too much if you don’t see major registrations rolling in from the start.
1. Ask around for input and then followup and ask for feedback when you’re done
Chances are there are others who have attended a similar event in the past, so find out what worked and what didn’t from them. They just might have a great idea for you! You can even try emailing your prospective attendees with a small e-survey. Be sure to always follow up with attendees after the event to see what could be done better the next time around.
2. Location. Location. Location. But affordable.
Make sure you’re not asking your guests driving halfway across the country to attend. Or worse, at a location that is so expensive that no one can afford to go. Be sure to find a location convenient and affordable for most of your attendees and try t make it unique enough to set your event apart.
3. Choose a date that works
The time of year, day of the week and time of day all make a difference for attendance. The general consensus is that after work is great for appreciation/networking events and later week after work is good for school events. In addition, Tuesdays and Thursdays make for good meeting days, and holidays and Fridays should usually be avoided for most events (unless it’s a 4th of July party, for example).
4. Know your competition
Check with other nearby schools and larger venues to see if something is already planned on your big day. If there’s something in the works, you just might be able to negotiate a deal witht he other event. The only exception to this rule is if there is already an event that is bringing in out of town attendess and your event requires the same. You may want to plan your event immediately before or after the other event to capitalize on those people being in town already.
5. Provide options for multiple demographics
You may have widely varying age and interest differences among your audience members, so one way to appeal to each audience segment is to provide incentives or programming specifically designed for each segment. If it’s a wedding with lots of younger people but a significant number of baby-boomers, you may want to offer two different kinds of music or activities that appeal to each audience.
6. Send out save the dates early
Get on people’s calendars as soon as you can so they can set aside the day and time.
7. Personalize your invitations and other mailed correspondence
Believe it or not, but mailed correspondence gets more attention these days due to the predominance of email. And anything that is personalized with handwriting gets even more notice.
8. Simplify the registration / RSVP process
If you are using online registration, make your forms as easy as possible to complete. Minimize the number of fields. Make it easy for multiple registrations (because for weddings and parties one person often replies for an entire family, and for business events one person may be registering for multiple co-workers). And consider bundled pricing for those multiple registrations.
9. Offer incentives for early registrations or arrivals
Early-bird discounts are a must for priming early registrations for many business-related events. But also consider giving away books, discount coupons or other value-adds to people who sign up early. And extend your early-bird registration at the last minute to give bargain-hunters a second chance.
10. Build your schedule/agenda early and communicate it to your audience
The clearer and more detailed you are about your agenda, the more people will feel they can make an informed decision about attending. Make sure you include this in your communications.
11. Build extracurricular fun time into the agenda (and make events family friendly)
Any event that is longer than 2 hours needs breaks or down time built into the schedule, and multi-day events should have some extracurricular fun time built into the schedule. Also, many attendees like to turn conferences and meetings into family trips, so keep this in mind when proposing entertainment and dining options to your attendees.
12. Express multiple value propositions in your promotional efforts
Just one benefit isn’t enough for most people to attend your event. You should include in your invitations, emails and marketing materials (including Web site) the valuable take-aways of the event (e.g., what attendees will learn); keynote speakers and/or entertainment; the schedule/agenda; photos and testimonials of past events; people/companies that attended past events; and any other relevant benefits.
13. Use emails to both invite and remind
Even if you sent out mailed invitations, it still doesn’t hurt to also send an email invitation and link back to your event website. However, it is critical to use email to send out reminders to your invited participants as well as your attendees. A good rule of thumb is sending out emails 14 days, 7 days, 3 days and 1 day prior to the event.
14. Followup phone calls
Before you are up against your RSVP or registration deadline, it’s a good idea to call your prospective attendees and ask them simply if they are planning on attending your event. This has been shown to boost attendance.
15. Optimize your event Web site for mobile devices
Some event planners have found that up to 20% of registrations come from mobile, so if you have an event that requires online registration, you should make sure your Web site works well on smart phones and tablets.
16. Cross promote with other organizations
Contact other organizations who may also reach out to your target audience and give them incentive to cross-promote your event to their lists. You could make them an in-kind sponsor and give them registration discounts or other spiffs for helping you.
17. Ask attendees and speakers to help you promote the event
Finally, the best way to promote an event is to empower your attendees and participants to spread the word. Make it easy for them to reach out to their friends and peers via email and social media. Offer discounts for bringing friends. Encourage your speakers and event participants to promote the event to their networks.
Information by Jeff Kearn @ planningpod