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8 Tips to End Attendee Early Departure

By Christina Green
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Are you worried about people leaving your event early? You should be if you’re not doing these 8 things.

No one leaves the concert of their favorite band early. No one leaves a sporting final that comes down to the wire and no one leaves anything when they are having the time of their lives. However, people are notorious for leaving conferences early, sometimes missing out on whole days. If you’re wondering how to keep attendees there until the bitter end, try these favorite suggestions.

8 Tips to End Attendee Early Departure

It Shouldn’t Be a “Bitter” End

There should be nothing bitter about the end of your event unless you mean that it’s disappointing that it’s ending. Go out with a bang. Make sure your last few activities are as exciting as your first few and publicize these ahead of time. Most people won’t change a plane ticket and incur those extreme costs just because they find out an interesting speaker will be speaking at the end. Make sure they know about the speaker before they book their tickets.

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Don’t Make It Easy to Leave

Sometimes it’s not you but them. Their boss doesn’t want them gone for that many days, they can’t get a sitter, it’s cheaper to fly mid-week than on a weekend, whatever the reason often attendees have to get back to life. When you schedule your last day to be only a few hours long, you make it a lot easier on them. You think you’re giving them time to travel. They see it as an abbreviated schedule that is hardly worth another night in a hotel and meals. The last day should be as fun-filled and interesting as the first.

Whatever you do, never schedule exhibit time on the last day. People who aren’t in the “market” will decide to leave early. The ASAE Technology Conference did this one year and the vendors were leaving early too.

Offer an Incentive to Stay

Select something of value and give it away at the last activity on the last day. For instance, people who stay for the closing session will receive a recording of all the sessions for free, while everyone else will pay for them. The trick here is to make sure what you’re offering is valuable to those who are staying. A free pen won’t do that.

Know Where Your Attendees Are Coming From

In the example of the ASAE Technology Conference, most of the attendees were from the DC area and it was held in DC in December. It ended on a Friday. See what happened here? It’s an afternoon off, getting things done that you need to do before the holidays. Since most people were local, it was a matter of hopping on the Metro and having a few “stolen” hours to themselves. It was way too tempting for people not to take advantage of that opportunity.

If on the other hand, you’re hosting an event where most people are traveling a distance, and if it’s a vacation destination, entice people to stay a few extra days past your conference. You can even help arrange post-conference activities for those who want to stay over the weekend.

End Things with a Blast

Ever watch a fireworks display and notice that they end the show with a little tiny fizzle of light? Of course not! Because they don’t. They end with a huge finale that is almost too much to take in, your eyes racing across the sky to watch one go off after another and just when you think you’ve found a favorite, another spectacular set goes off. Your event should be the same way. End with a party that gets hyped throughout the multi-day event and you’ll be more likely to have attendees who stay.

Market the Last Day

Do everything you can before people arrange bookings and throughout the conference to talk about the last day’s events. Make it sound like the best part of the whole conference. Your keynote and your marketing department should tease the audience through video and social media about all the fun and learning they’ll experience on that last day.

Save a Surprise

Save something huge for the last day. Don’t tell your audience what it is but tell them that it’s huge and if they don’t love it you’ll <insert a guarantee you feel comfortable with> then make sure to carry out your promise. This can be a guest star appearance meet and greet or a chance to win something huge. Just make sure your “huge” is a universal concept. A Kindle is no longer all that exciting. Yes, a free tablet is nice but not worth sticking around for or changing a plane ticket.

Set a Precedent for Everyone to Stay

From keynote speakers to vendors, if your members see people leaving early it can work the same way it did back in school. Some kids watch others skip and not get in trouble and soon half the senior class is no longer in attendance. For vendors, it’s easy to get them to comply if they want to exhibit next year. Keynote speakers today must be expected to do more than bounce in and out. They are critical to engagement. Do your best to keep them around for a few days or at least require them to attend something other than their own session, like a book signing.

In Conclusion

Most airlines charge a $200+ change fee plus the cost differential in the ticket price between when it was purchased and what it costs to purchase it a day in advance. For instance, if the attendee booked a flight to leave early and after hearing about the amazing end-of-the-event party she wants to change her plane ticket, she’ll pay $200 with no ticket differential. If she bought the original ticket for $300 but now tickets are $525 she will pay $425 ($200 for the change penalty + $225 for the difference between the advanced ticket purchase and the one she’s changing). $425 is a big cost to attend a party and most companies aren’t going to eat that.  

Instead, make sure everyone knows how amazing the event will be – all of the event, every minute. Once they’ve booked and already plan to leave there’s not much you can offer them to change their minds unless you have some amazing in with the airlines or private jets at your disposal. But once you attain the reputation of hosting a spectacular event, people will know not to leave early next year.

about the author

Christina Green
Christina R. Green is a digital storyteller and writer for associations and businesses, including journals such as the Midwestern Society of Association Executive's magazine and industry blogs. She's a voracious reader but has been known to stop reading if there are too many exclamation points used.
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