You reserve the room. You order the catering. You bring in the perfect speaker. You send the invites and track the responses.
You plan an event.
And people don’t show up.
If you are painfully nodding along, you are not alone. So many of our clients struggle with the challenge of simply getting people to show up for the events that they have spent time, money, and effort to plan. Of course, most people are respectful—they let you know they can no longer make it, they lament that their travel schedule puts them out of the office the day of the event, they promise to attend the next one. The interest and intention are there, which you know because you have asked the attendees what they want. So how can you get past the last-minute fire drills and get people to show up for your events and programs?
Timing is everything. Timing is also tricky.
Over the past couple of years and many workshops, we’ve observed that the first-thing in the morning time slot works best for our clients. While still being mindful of long commutes and child-care drop offs, you can start an event at the beginning of the day to capture participants when they are fresh and ready to engage in something new. You can avoid the “one more thing” that keeps people trapped at their desks over lunch or into happy-hour timing, and thus avoid the last-minute no-shows. Consider serving a light breakfast in addition to coffee to give yourself a little flexibility on the front end, letting people trickle in until the set program time.
The exception to this is Mondays. Given the prevalence of Monday memes, it may be best to avoid this day all together!
Depending on your industry and the individual roles of your attendees, you may need to cater to different schedules (early shift, late shift) or even offer multiple session options. You can also consider varying your event times, but always offering a recording or remote-engagement option for employees with more strict schedules.
Get people involved, get them there.
When people have a role in making the event a success, they will be there to see their effort in action. They are likely to also recruit additional attendees and rally excitement for the event! You may consider forming a “committee” that plans each event and takes ownership of it, or you may just assign small tasks to individuals as they register or express interest.
- For the early-bird: “Would you mind greeting our facilitator when she arrives at 7:30? I know she would love to meet you and hear more about your work with [fill in passion area].”
- For the foodie: “I’m so excited for our upcoming event but have no clue where to order our catering from. Can you give me some ideas for fun breakfast options?” (Bonus points if they take over coordinating!)
- For the analyst: “We’d love to be able to report back on the success of the event, would you mind working with our facilitator to send out a survey after the event?”
By playing into people’s strengths, you give them a quick and easy way to get involved and provide value, and the end result is one more individual to attend and champion your amazing event.
Going a step beyond to remind participants of value.
When you send an invite, it is easy to automatically remind someone of the date and time of an event, but the critical piece to bring top-of-mind is the value of the event. When someone doesn’t remember why they are going, it is easier to blow it off in favor of something that is seemingly more pressing. In reality, the events you plan likely have limited capacity, are unique in content, and won’t come around again for a while. That email in your inbox will still be there in a couple hours.
So, when you remind, encourage attendees to think of the event’s value: professional development, relationship-building, empowerment, or new skills. When you can, communicate clear objectives and takeaways to set expectations—we know your event will exceed them!
You can also take this a step further to remind managers and supervisors of the value of events, to ensure that they are not only “allowing,” but encouraging their direct reports to attend. Often times, this investment in employees leads to higher levels of satisfaction and retention—everyone wins!
The next time you sit down to plan an event, shift the narrative:
The early-bird reserves the room. The foodie orders the catering. You bring in the perfect speaker. The analyst sends the invites and track the responses.
Your committees plans an event.
Everyone shows up, everyone contributes, everyone walks away with value added, feeling valued.
Need help getting there? We can work with your women's initiative to plan an effective roadmap for programming and fill rooms along the way.
Also, in case you're reading this on Monday: