How to Increase Attendance at Seminars and Business Events
The most important step to overcoming fears about a lack of attendance at an event or to increase the RSVP list is to recognize that people really do enjoy attending well-executed seminars and other events. By attending business meetings, the participant gets a chance to learn new information and interact with peers and leaders in their field. But the most successful meetings go beyond star-studded keynotes and inspiring presentations; they create a warm, friendly environment for everyone –which makes them more enjoyable. Here's how you can plan an enjoyable business event that will attract a great turnout.
Create a Great Agenda
Once hosts understand that people enjoy attending events, it is important to create a program that is worth attending. The agenda should be focused on a single theme as to not overwhelm attendees but should have enough variety to maintain attendees' interest. For example, the following sample half-day seminar schedule considers the meeting attendees' needs from food to breaks to presentations:
- 8:00 a.m. Arrivals and Breakfast
- 8:45 a.m. Welcome Message
- 9:00 a.m. Keynote Speaker
- 10:00 a.m. Break
- 10:15 a.m. Panel Discussion
- 11:30 a.m. Closing Remarks
Be Sensitive to the Calendar and Clock
Despite the best agenda, event attendees have preferences as to when they want to attend such programs and when they do not. In some seasonal industries, it is sometimes a matter of cannot as well. Consider the following when scheduling dates and times for your event:
- Attendees prefer morning schedules for seminars
- Attendees prefer appreciation events immediately after work
- Tuesdays and Thursdays are popular meeting days
- Avoid holding meetings on Fridays if possible
- Avoid scheduling meetings on holidays and the eve of holidays
- Be sensitive to attendee travel requirements for the event
Equally important is establishing a reputation for starting on time and finishing on time - particularly for annual or repeated events.
Identify a Unique and Convenient Location
Most business meetings are held in hotels and that type of venue in and of itself is not so unique. You can choose to break the mold and find a great non-hotel venue or you can recognize that all hotels are not created equal and find a great hotel. The main point here is to select a location where your guests will want to go. After all, they are will be making a detour from their routine and want to enjoy the event. Consider the following factors:
- Select a venue that is near the majority of attendees
- Select a venue where attendees would enjoy themselves
- Select a venue that is experienced in hosting similar events
Compile an Appropriate Guest List
Successful meetings have a specific topic or message and target audience for that message. It is valuable to compile a guest list that includes appropriate attendees, even if they are ranked in order of importance. Too often, hosts will compile a master list of prospective guests only to then open the meeting to the masses. This will work only if you are trying to fill seats based on the numbers game.
A business meeting, conference, or seminar shouldn't be viewed as a direct mail effort with 1-3% RSVP rates. We prefer coaching clients to generate specific lists of targeted attendees - folks who they really want to attend hopefully with RSVP rates of 50% or better.
A final thought about attendees: Try to invite individuals of similar rank and experience to the meeting.
Invite, Invite, Invite!
One of the keys to achieving great attendance to your event is by inviting people early and following up. This means sending reminders to those who haven't RSVPed and confirmations to those who have. Sending an event reminder just before the event to confirmed guests isn't generally a bad idea either.
It's important to generate excitement around the event. Traditional printed invitations are appropriate, but it becoming the norm to also look to email and even social media depending on your audience. Try this approach:
- Mention the event to guests you or your team knows personally before sending invites.
- Send a save the date early in the planning process (paper or electronic).
- Send a detailed invitation, including agenda highlights (paper or electronic) with an RSVP request.
- Forward the detailed invitation again with a personalized note to personal friends or acquaintances (electronic).*
- Follow up with confirmed guests one to two days before the scheduled event (electronic or over the phone).
*You may also choose to formally call guests and extend a personal invitation to the event.
Don't Underestimate the Power of Personal Invitations
A physical invitation– whether printed or electronic– is nice, but it shouldn't be viewed as a substitute for a personally extended invitation to friends, colleagues, or acquaintances (unless, of course, you are planning a large symposium or convention with 500 or more attendees). This is the step that makes many hosts cringe… they do not want to pick up the phone, but it can mean the difference between high RSVPs rates (with low no-show rates) and a less than ideal turn out.
For some events, it can help to share this responsibility. The guest list of an event is often compiled from contact lists that are maintained by a variety of individuals, and those individuals with the closest relationships to the invitees should extend a direct invitation to their own guests.
Establish a Reputation for Delivering Excellent Programs
Everyone has attended good conferences and bad conferences. The same holds true for seminars and other appreciation events. Lucky for event planners, people more often enjoy the meetings they attend.
The key here is to help your client establish a reputation for delivering excellent business programs. Simple as it may seem, if someone enjoyed attending your last event, he or she is more likely to attend future programs - and possibly even bring a friend or colleague.
Send Follow up Communications and Thank Attendees
Because people attend meetings to gather new information, many attendees appreciate receiving additional handouts and materials that may have been referenced by presenters and other folks within your organization. The follow-up is an excellent opportunity to share that information and extend thank you messages to those who attended the event.
The thank you note and follow up communication is something that many organizations often overlook, but those who don't reap the benefits.