Recently many successful events have seen attendance numbers dropping. Event stakeholder reactions vary wildly – from canceling the event entirely, to redoubling marketing efforts. Happily, neither of these approaches are inherently right or wrong. The trick is to know why attendees aren’t coming, and how organizations can then address the objections keeping those attendees away.
Magic fix No. 1: Know thy audience
Most events poll attendees. Almost no events ever poll non-attendees. The reason this matters is because if someone attends, they already are a “believer” in the value of the event. If they don’t return for the next iteration, and have not changed jobs, then (don’t shoot the messenger, please) somehow the event has failed to live up to its proposed value. If they never attended, then there is no compelling reason for them to be there in the first place that is worth the time or expense.
All three groups (attendees, non-returning attendees, non-attendees) have very important insights into what constitutes real value for them. However, asking them to provide those insights requires planners to pay careful attention to the line of questioning, and to put time and effort into capturing their responses.
Magic fix No. 2: Brag
Assuming an event has done the diligence to determine that it does have real value for attendees, but is still seeing attrition in large numbers, then it’s time to look at how that value is being communicated. Too many events get bogged down in minutia in their pre-event communications, with things like detailed agendas, or multiple messages in one e-mail. Others assume the value of the event is known, and simple communicate the date, time and place, and wait for attendees to start registering.
Communications that help potential attendees “connect the dots” between content and the event’s benefit to them that are delivered at regular, non-invasive intervals are the most effective.
However, when an organization presumes it knows what attendees want (but has never really asked) and then builds messages around untested assumptions, their efforts will fall flat. The message must align with the need.
Magic fix No. 3: Do it differently
If the audience does not feel an event delivers enough value to incite them to spend their time and money to be present, then it is time for a serious event overhaul. Every audience has its own unique set of needs and expectations, so there is no “one-size fits all” approach. However, there are key things to consider:
- More than networking — what type of networking do they want?
- What kind of session content and delivery format is most helpful?
- What are an audience’s greatest work challenges? How can this event alleviate them?
- What kind of timing/location works best for your audience?
- What is the competition for the event (which can simply be “doing nothing”) doing well?
The best news is that even when an event is only a few weeks away, enacting these fixes can have a remarkable impact on attendance without generating additional expense.