Nothing is more deflating than spending countless hours (as well as lots of money) planning an event only to have a paltry turnout. Empty chairs are the bane of every event planner’s existence, and so we decided to compile a list of tactics for improving the attendance at your events.
Note that some of these event attendance tips may not apply to every type of event … some are better for meetings, some better for corporate events, some better for weddings and parties. But this is a good place to start your brainstorming. I didn’t cover all the specific ways you can use social media to promote your events, mainly because there are so many great posts like here and here and here. I’m not going to mention “Choose a great speaker or entertainer” because that’s fairly obvious. And I am going to use the term “attendees” to apply to any kind of guest, attendee or participant.
And keep in mind that people procrastinate to the last minute to RSVP or register (Eventbrite had a recent stat that 1/2 of event registrations or RSVPs occur within 2 weeks of the event date), so your goal is to push those RSVPs/registrations earlier.
1. Ask for input upfront (and feedback afterwards)
Doing your research is the first step in planning a successful event, so find out what your target audience wants (and doesn’t want). Talk to your prospective attendees, and if you have a list, email them a short e-survey. Then follow up with attendees after the event to find out what could have been done better and make those tweaks to your next event.
2. Choose a convenient location that is memorable yet affordable
The best way to drive away attendees is to choose a venue that is too far away or too expensive for them. So find a location convenient for a majority of your attendees and make sure it’s distinctive enough to set your event apart and yet not so costly that it drives up the per-attendee price too much.
3. Choose a date that works for your audience
The time of year, day of the week and time of day all make a difference for attendance. For example, mornings are great for seminars, after work is great for appreciation / networking events and weekend afternoons and evenings are preferable for weddings. 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. Don’t compete with similar events (unless you piggyback on them)
If there’s already a similar event planned for the approximate time or day you want to hold yours, you should look to what other dates would work. The only exception to this rule is if there is already an event that is being attended by many of your prospective attendees, and then 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.
Are there any important tips we left out? Provide them in the comments below.
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