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Home >  EXPERTISE4 tips for reducing no-shows
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4 tips for reducing no-shows
Meeting planner Roy Ying gives advice on how to keep guests keen for your event

8 Oct 2015

As event managers, we often pray for a near full house attendance when the officiating guests walk into the venue. It simply does not look good if half the chairs are empty. What tools are available to minimise people no-showing on us?

1.  Choose a venue with easy access via a range of public transport options subway, tram, taxi, bus and if possible a car park for those who are driving.

On the registration confirmation, I would suggest including a map with directions from the closest MTR station as there could be an audience who are not residents of Hong Kong. If you are unable to secure a convenient location, shuttle bus service to and from the closest transport hub may be a consideration.

2. Pick a time where you are not likely to be competing with another event organiser for the same audience. It is very difficult but not possible. In Hong Kong, there are only a small number of venues event organizers will use (5 star hotels, private clubs and HKCEC). Check their events calendar or give them a call. Even if you do clash with another event, there's always something that can be done. Just last month, I had to plan my cocktail party that started at 5:45pm ( 45 minutes earlier than normal) because I knew most of my guests would be leaving for a gala dinner organised by another institution. Yes, people needed to leave their offices a little earlier, but it was a welcomed decision by everyone.

3. Give people a reason to want to come. These days, organisers are competing with one another for audiences because there are just too many events to go to. Wherever possible, I would publish the list of participants to my own events. In China, I create a chat room on Wechat for all registered guests before the event starts. This platform creates just one more reason for registered guests to come. During the event, I allocate more "down time" such as a longer coffee break or post event cocktail so that people linger to network.

4. Offer an incentive that will make attendees sure to come. I was in a conference organised by the leading English newspaper in Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post. The registration fee includes a book written by an award winning professor from New York University David Goldsmith who was also the keynote speaker. The book signing session was a brilliant idea because people physically had to show up to get the autograph. Yes, his presentation was brilliant but people could have watched it via podcast. Getting an autograph required their physical presence.

The above tools are the fundamentals of event planning. These are decisions that could potentially influence the turnout based on the attractiveness of the event. If you are just managing event logistics, there are other things to consider:

Use communication channels that are preferred by your audience, no matter how convenient they may or may not be to you. If your audience doesn't bother reading emails, maybe it's better to send them an SMS. Major international events now have their own mobile Apps to manage registration and event communication with registered guests. Although the initial set up cost may seem expensive, the increased level of engagement with the audience is well worth the investment. If you have no budget, just pick up the phone and confirm. It still helps.

Events that are free of charge normally have a higher no show rate. In the past, I have tried imposing a refundable deposit (HKD500 or even HKD1,000) upon registration. The participant will need to show up to collect the deposit back. Yes, this trick may not work if your guests are your clients or VIPs, but for seminars and workshops, this deposit will make the participants think twice before they register because it is their own money at stake.

An event before the main event is commonplace at international conventions. Pre-events could be cocktails, breakfasts, roundtables or informal exercises. I've attended a pre-event where there were over 100 VIPs. The organiser knew that emails, phone calls, SMS reminders wouldn't be much help in ensuring these VIPs' attendance. What they did was organise an exclusive meeting and group photo opportunity with the officiating guest, who was one of the state leaders from central government. This was a big enough attraction for all the VIPs as there was a role for them to play, and since they were already there, the opening ceremony was very well-attended.

A no-show policy is not my preferred option but it can  save a lot of time and trouble if the rules are clearly laid out. In many golf clubs around the world, there are serious penalties for members if they fail to show up at the tee-off time. The same can apply to your events if you are running a membership organisation. For public events, the best you can do is to keep a grey list and a black list.

Most hotels and venue operators will ask you to supply them with a final catering order within 48 hours (or longer depending on your group size). If you have a 5% over-booking policy, it may be useful to ask the hotel to offer a 5% flexibility on catering in case everyone of your registered guest show up.

If a sit-down dinner is just too difficult to manage, you can remove the problem by changing the format of your meal to a stand up buffet. The VIPs can be moved to a private room for a more proper meal. Personally, I don't like buffets because there's too much food waste, but if you can't avoid it, the least you can do is to ask Leftover Group to collect the leftover food.

There are many more tricks but as an event manager, you should ask yourself how much time and effort you should be investing on this particular aspect of the whole project. Yes, it is important, but will you run into trouble if your event has 800 people showing up instead of 1,000? Only you can make the decision.

Roy Ying is a professional conference organiser who has held senior positions in associations, chambers and listed companies.


Tags :
Convention   event planning  

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