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Boosting Numbers for Less-attended Events

Meeting planners dig deep into their bag of tricks to build better attendance.

By Michele Sponagle

Everyone loves a glitzy dinner event, or a rousing address from a high-profile keynote speaker. But what to do for those less attractive sessions that don’t have the same appeal to meeting participants? For some meeting planners, this has meant digging deep into their bag of tricks to build better attendance.

For Sarah Watson, manager, meetings and events for the Canadian Mathematical Society in Ottawa, AGMs were more sparsely attended than they should be. It was an important part of the organization’s annual conference and there had to be a quorum present in order to conduct the meeting. Instead of just listing it in the event program, Watson decided to change tactics. She created an invitation that looked like a ticket and made it clear that a complimentary lunch would be served. Her strategy worked. Instead of an expected 40 people, the AGM attracted closer to 100. “Members wanted to use the ticket,” she says. “They now saw the AGM as part of their conference package and wanted to get the full value of what we offered for their fees.”

Moriah Bacus of Define Events in Toronto has found that bolstering attendance for less popular sessions is done effectively through social media: “I show those type of events extra love through Facebook and Twitter, while pulling back on publicizing events where we know we’ll get the adequate numbers.” She establishes a variety of conference hash tags so that messages can be easily found and accessed across all platforms.

Bacus also enlists the help of session presenters. “When you engage with attendees before the session, they’re more likely to show up,” she says. Presenters can crowd-source topics attendees would like to see discussed, or they can poll a potential audience for their opinion on key subjects. It’s a way to encourage engagement well before the event.

Bacus discovered the effectiveness of an “all hands on deck” approach when it comes to social media. “I get all team members—from interns to account executives—to send out messages about upcoming sessions,” she says. You can also get more out of your social media if you learn what time of day traffic peaks. LinkedIn, for example, sees a jump in users early in the morning and late afternoon.

Get the word out
Onsite communications before events are key to driving traffic to sessions. At Ignite’s Business Event Expo, conference participants were invited to bring their lunch or a coffee to education sessions via loud speaker announcements. It did the trick.

The timing for less-attended events is important, too. Some meeting planners have found that scheduling them just before lunch helped boost numbers.

Sarah Lowis, president, Sea to Sky Meeting management in North Vancouver, has one client who makes an offer few participants can refuse. The AGM was not as well attended as it had hoped, so the client was willing to offer food and drink, plus complimentary registration for next year’s conference. It is a tactic that has seen audience numbers jump by 20 per cent since it was first used in 2009.

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