Event SOS: Where did it all go wrong? How I plan to put it right
How hard can it be? According to Wikipedia, London and its commuter belt holds 13,614,409 people. That’s a lot of folk.
So how challenging can it be to persuade, let’s say 50 of them, to come to an attractive venue in Central London on a Tuesday night to hear from 2 brilliant life coaches, and 2 of our brightest young female entrepreneurs, talk about empowerment, career coaching, and running a business against the odds?
The speakers were keen, the subject matter, as I mentioned, promising, the venue intimate and friendly, all I needed were some attendees. So how to find them?
I tried all the usual routes. I have a twitter following of 300, my speakers had many more, and between us we had thousands of Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections and email contacts. We even had a Meetup page with 500 members.
But 3 days before the event was due to start I had only sold 1 ticket. 1! So where did it all go wrong? Here is what I learned from my heroic failure.
Lead Time is Crucial!
Although I had everything planned a month in advance, by the time I had obtained the speaker bios for my Event page, got everybody to agree on a date, and finalised details such as food preparation, drinks allowance and seating, I was already living on borrowed time.
Finally my event page went live with just 13 days to go until the big day, and that included 2 weekends. Simply not enough time to build momentum.
Finding the Target Market
Yes I had plenty of contacts, but I took too much of a scatter gun approach to marketing the event. The questions I should have been asking myself were: what kind of people would come to an event like this, where could I find them, how do they like to be spoken to, and what could I promise them about the event that would prick their ears up and make their hairs stand on end?
I thought I had done enough by getting the details out there, naively thinking that the internet would do the rest. I learnt a valuable lesson when I realised that people don’t spend their free time browsing event sites and picking evenings to attend. Well, not the calibre of people I was looking to attract, anyway.
I was far too general in my approach, assuming that people would be as interested in my event as I was. Big mistake. People lead busy lives, and they will only make a decision to give up 3 hours of their valuable time if they are given the best reasons to do so. They expect a personalised approach and a specially tailored invitation at the very least.
I failed to discover what sort of person my speakers would really appeal to. I didn’t give myself enough time to discover exactly what they did, who their clients were, and how a group session would change the dynamic of how they normally work.
If you are planning on running and selling an event, expect to be talking to people non-stop; event planning starts with a computer and a social network, it most definitely does not end there!
Get People Signed Up, Start with the Low Hanging Fruit!
My target was to get a relatively modest 40 to 50 people together in one place, but as I have mentioned, I didn’t really grasp that in a situation like this the phone, not the web, should have been my weapon of choice!
Shortly after cancelling my event I phoned a friend to arrange an evening out; the first words he said to me were, “hi mate, looking forward to coming to your event on Tuesday”. It hadn’t occurred to me that my friends might be willing to come along and show their support, or out of curiosity, or because they wanted to hear the fantastic speakers I had arranged. But many people who plan to come don’t always sign up online.
Of course it would be fantastic for the organiser if everyone did, but trust me, they don’t. If I had phoned my friend a few weeks before the event I could have persuaded him to sign up there and then, and if I had phoned 10 or 20 more, hey presto, I may have had the makings of a decent crowd.
Finding the first few attendees is always the hardest part; nobody wants to be the first to throw their hat into the ring. So always make sure your first calls are to friends, family, or those you have a close working relationship with.
Take a Leap Into the Unknown!
Ask yourself, what is the point of staging an event in the first place? It’s all about creating a new experience, not just for others, but for yourself, too. If you are not the kind of person who enjoys new experiences, then don’t organise an event! So my final recommendation is to take some risks, and not to be afraid of putting yourself out there.
Once you have determined your target market first, of course, phone some people who you really think would add a dash of glamour to the event. A high flier in that area, someone who you have always looked up to in the workplace, a celebrity even, (just make sure they don’t have a rider requirement for a dressing room full of roses, first!).
Remember, nobody ever minds being invited to something, it’s not being invited that really bugs people. Many of us give the impression that we are always out at some event or other, but in reality everyone is grateful for an opportunity to see and to be seen, to network and to learn something new.
If you are proud of the event you are selling, make sure other people have an opportunity to share it too. You may well be very surprised by who refuses, but even more so by who takes you up on your offer.
I am happy to say that all of my speakers are still keen for my event to take place, so it has not been cancelled, merely postponed. Now I know that others were planning on attending, I understand my target market, and the experience of failure first time around has made me bolder, not more fearful, I am ready to go again.
The idea was a good one, it was the execution after the initial release that was all wrong. Make sure you plan everything to the smallest detail, but act like you expect anything could happen. I’ll let you know soon if my advice in this column is worth following, but I am confident I will get results!
Edmund Ingham is a freelance writer and PR consultant working with investors and start-ups in London’s Silicon Roundabout. He writes a column for Forbes magazine and is the founder of entrepreneurial blog Haggerston Times.
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