How to handle a less than expected attendance at your events
Estimating the amount of attendees for your event can be a stressful experience. Overestimate and food can go to waste, the room can look empty, and you may be left with an abundance of event swag that was specific to that event only. Underestimate and you may be left with hungry guests, a lack of seating, and long lines at the bar.
We recently worked with a client that had all of their ducks in a row for event preparation: Save the dates went out 13 months in advance (Which actually caused a bit of confusion when people saw the date but not the year, thinking the event was two weeks away rather than 13 months. I suggest sending save the dates 9-10 months prior to the event as the ideal time.), they were able to negotiate hotel rooms and pick up some great added benefits, worked great deals with presenters, and on top of that built, designed, and advertised exactly as they should have. Once the event website opened for registration and as we drew closer to the event, it became apparent that attendance was going to be low for whatever reason. This could have been that this was a first-time event and folks were leery without previous reviews. With this, the client came to us asking what to do.
As with any event, open to the public or pre-booked and private, you still have people that will show up. This particular event had about 1/3 of the originally expected attendees. We suggested that they go through with the event and pull off a phenomenal event for these attendees.
The number one consideration was for those who did show up. These attendees that decided to come had taken several days away from their jobs, paid the fees, bought airplane tickets and hotel rooms, and were still expecting a great event. With this in mind, we readjusted, moved things around, and worked with the hotel to get as much of the space reallocated. On top of that, we worked on menus and determined how to best set up rooms so the room didn’t feel empty.
We accomplished one of the best event deliveries for this smaller group of attendees. Not only did they receive personal attention from the speakers, but it was also easy for them to network with everyone in the group. I believe everyone attending left with the feeling that this was one amazing event.
The moral of this story is that if you reframe your thinking and don’t let the numbers dissuade you, you can still achieve a great event. That way all of your hard work leading up to that point won’t be for naught and your attendees will appreciate that you considered the time and resources they expended as well. What’s more is that it will likely boost the positive feedback of the event to help encourage higher attendance the following year.
Before thinking about cancelling or shortening the event, consider these tips to recover and still pull off a great event:
- Think of those who spent their time and resources on the event
This includes staff, vendors, speakers, AND attendees. Don’t disappoint those who have committed to the event because you didn’t reach your target numbers.
- Use the event for a marketing and exposure opportunity
A) Use social media and ask attendees to use social media to garner engagement through event coverage
B) Encourage your attendees to share their great experience with others
C) Think about how to capture the event to make it look bigger for your advertising in the future
- Never let the attendees know you expected twice as many, they don’t know how many you were expecting and won’t miss those that weren’t there.
- Enjoy the event and never look back!
To garner interest and increased attendance for the following year consider the following:
- Make sure you have a photographer and/or a videographer to capture the good stuff from the event to share during and afterwards
- Market as if the event was over crowded, get great comments from attendees and publish them
- Send out a “Sorry you weren’t here” note to those who couldn’t make it with a website link attached so they can see what they missed
Above all else if you find yourself in the situation where you have low event attendance, view this as an opportunity rather than a disappointment. This will help you create a positive experience for everyone involved and get everyone excited for next year’s event!
photo credit: Unconferenced – PopTech 2014 – Rebellion – Camden, Maine via photopin (license)