No More No-Shows: How to Increase Attendance at Free Events

Written by Danielle Hopkins on March 27, 2018

So you are planning a free educational event. You’ve developed top notch education, opened registration and before you know it, the event is sold out. Work over, right? Not exactly. There are things you can do now to reduce the number of empty seats on the day of the event. Why should you care about empty seats? Having “no shows” is a negative thing for many reasons – it means you will be turning away members that could have otherwise attended, there will be fewer networking options, and food and materials will be wasted. While free events come with the challenge of the no-show, there are things you can do to keep attendance high.

To start, you should evaluate the option of charging a fee. Some would argue that unless an attendee has skin in the game they won’t see their registration as a true commitment. Even if it’s a small amount, charging a fee has a way of solidifying the commitment and making the event more of a priority. This strategy is worth some real thought.

If charging a fee for your event is not an option, there’s still hope. Here are a few additional strategies to increase attendance at your next free event:

Register More Attendees Than You Have Seats

Yes, I’m suggesting that you overbook. Don’t be reckless with this approach or you will get into trouble. I suggest starting small, and as you learn your audience you can find the perfect balance. Start by tracking attendance at your event closely. How many registered? How many attended? Count rooms at the start of the session and at the end of the session. Having this information will help you determine your drop off so you will know what to expect. You can then open registration to a higher number of people than you have seats. I know this sounds scary but I assure you that over the years I’ve learned to trust the data. It works well.

Effective Outreach

It’s critical that you reach out to your registrants to confirm their attendance in advance. The important part of this step is to reach out in such a way that you know your registrants are getting it, such as calls, social media, and letters. Reach out more than once. One mass email will not work. I’ve found that people want to do the right thing but they need to understand what’s at stake. Explain that not attending will mean that you have turn people away and the seat will be wasted. Increased communication really helps here.

Positive Reinforcement

Some organizations charge fees if someone doesn’t show up. Why not take a positive approach and reward those that participate instead? Is there something you can offer to attendees that no-shows will miss out on? This will be different for every organization so find what works for you. Maybe you could get a sponsor to provide an item onsite or attendees could get coupons for discounts on others services. These items increase attendance overall and improve the experience.

Planning a free educational event has some unique challenges, but now you have a few tricks up your sleeve. With data collection, increased communication and a giveaway or two, you should have a packed house in no time.