How to avoid the empty chairs

It may just be me, but I’ve observed recently that it is becoming more challenging to plan and organise successful events. There are many good reasons for companies to invest their time and effort in organising events for their customers or for potential new customers. However business owners and employees alike are becoming much more fickle with event organisers. Gone are the days of good old-fashioned courtesy, when an invite will be responded to promptly. From recent conversations, for many event organisers, there is the frustration – and sometimes fear – of not knowing whether everyone who’s accepted will actually turn up on the day!

This makes planning and budgeting extremely difficult. If the event speakers are not coming from your own company, there is the added embarrassment asking someone to prepare a presentation and then finding that many of the chairs in the room are not occupied. Sometimes the best laid plans are spoiled by the good old British weather, but assuming that isn’t a factor, here are some tips from the Aardvarks.

Firstly, do not underestimate the amount of planning time and commitment required on the part of your staff to ensure there are sufficient attendees. To be successful, the content that you intend to share must be very relevant to the attendees and also engaging in the manner in which it is delivered to them.

Consider charging an upfront fee, even if your event is normally free to attend. Although this can make it more difficult to market and sell the places, you are likely to have fewer ‘no shows’. If charging a fee, check that the payment process is easy and as simple as possible.

Secondly, plan out the timing of any initial, interim and final promotional activity to advertise the event. As with any advertising, try to make sure the heading is attention grabbing and addresses something that will solve a relevant problem for your potential attendees. There is plenty of competition out there and your event needs to stand out. If using the same media, plan in advance a sequence of adverts with different headings rather than just using repeats.

Make sure your promotional activity covers a variety of communication channels. For some people a good old-fashioned invitation through the post will make them feel welcome and valued. For others who are perhaps more active with their social media networks, spreading the word through digital means is the most cost-effective. Many organisers rely on email campaigns. In our experience, the best method of all will be the personal phone call. What works for one person will not work for everybody, so the best promotional plans use a mix.

Third, the names of the speakers, venue, catering, facilities, parking and directions are all vitally important pieces of information and need to be communicated several times to potential attendees.

On the day, make sure that people are greeted promptly on arrival. Escort them, in person if possible, to the refreshments available. If attendees don’t know others in the room, take the time to introduce them to somebody who can look after them and make them feel welcome. If attendees have to go some distance to park cars, make sure there is clear signage or someone in the car park to point them in the right direction.

Check beforehand that speakers have access to all the right IT equipment and have a back-up plan in place. Make sure that they are aware of the time allowed and encourage them to do a ‘dry run’ beforehand. Allow plenty of time for questions at the end.

If you are running a series of events it’s very important to get some honest feedback from your attendees about the venue, the speakers, content and the facilities so that you can improve next time. Thank attendees for their time and contribution on the day.

Finally, think about how you can share the event with those who were unable to attend on the day. A video recording, a copy of the presentations and some photos can all be used for publicity afterwards, whether this is through the press or simply a blog post that can be shared via social media.

Happy marketing!