As an Event Manager you work hard to carefully craft the schedule for every single event and to ensure that every single minute counts. With this in mind it is frustrating when attendees make an early dart to leave the conference, often missing out on important content and information.
So what can you do to encourage more of your audience to stay right until the end? Unfortunately there is not one magic solution but here are 13 top tips to increase the staying power of your delegates.
Short and Sweet
When planning the programme it is tempting to extend the day so you can fit absolutely everything in that you would like to include. Suddenly instead of having a conference programme running between the ideal times you identified, with speakers programmed between say 10am – 4pm, you now have a packed agenda which pushes the boundaries of what you know will be acceptable to your audience. By doing this you are setting yourself up to fail - so resist making the day too long.
Also consider your target audience and their working hours and be respectful of this. For example when planning an event for school teachers you probably want the finish time to be earlier than with other sectors to mirror school hours.
Think about where your attendees are travelling from and work out realistic travel times to the venue by different modes of transport. Is traffic gridlocked at rush hour? What time is the first train or bus and how regularly do they run? What time can you reasonably expect attendees to arrive from the furthest or trickiest distance anticipated? What time would they need to leave the event to get home at an acceptable time?
Of course you cannot envisage every possibility but at the same time you do not want to exclude huge chunks of your audience or force them to have to arrive late or leave early. If people know they will be forced to miss part of the event they may decide not to attend at all.
Hopefully the venue will have been chosen for maximum accessibility, convenience and excellent public transport links but it is best to know any issues before the final programme is publicised.
Save the Best Till Last
A common tactic to use is to save one of your must-see keynote speakers until the final plenary to entice people to stay until the end. Of course the counter argument is that people may not stay and the speaker has a less than full room to present to. This is a tough decision to make but if the presenter is well known and respected and their session resonates with the audience hopefully the majority of your attendees will not want to miss out.
Throughout the event, including the last session, have staff or volunteers on hand to encourage seats to be filled from the front and every seat to be used. Resist having too many spare chairs to encourage everyone to sit closer together. Not only is this better for the person presenting and looks better on any event photography and video it also encourages attendees to engage better. If delegates are lounging at the back of the room and distanced from the speaker and other participants they are more likely to up and leave during the middle of a session and before the end of the day.
A big mistake is to programme a break too late in the day. If you have a break close to the scheduled finish time many will view it as a perfect, convenient time to bolt early without being noticed. Ensure that your afternoon comfort break isn’t too long and that there is still lots to follow it. Sometimes it may even be possible to have a longer morning session, lunch and not require an afternoon break at all if the afternoon session is relatively short? Your attendees comfort is of course the number one priority but be practical and think wisely.
Another killer is when workshops happen during the afternoon session and they all finish at slightly different times, meaning a large number of delegates are sat waiting for everyone to congregate back for the final plenary. Understandably people get restless and frustrated in these circumstances and as a result may just up and leave.
To avoid this don’t have workshop sessions too late in the day unless you can guarantee they will finish at the same time. To do this effectively you will need to tightly manage every session with watches synchronised, staff responsible for each room in session and radio communication for updates. Ensure that workshops outside of the main room are planned to be shorter than the session in the main room, relevant to the walking time between rooms. Give 10 minute, 5 minute and “time-up” warnings and stress to speakers that end really means end. It is preferable to have attendees finished and waiting to enter the main room precisely as the workshop session in there comes to a close, rather than have some sessions finished and others overrunning, which will make delegates impatient.
Communication is Key
Good timekeeping is vital. Throughout the day the Chair should reiterate (and ensure!) that the event will finish on time. If you get behind schedule communicate how this time will be made up, perhaps by shaving a few minutes off the lunch period and slightly re-jigging the timings. If the programme is slipping and starts to seem out of control attendees can panic and decide to cut their losses and leave the event early, rather than risk getting delayed.
Throughout the day the Chair should also succinctly highlight the content and speakers still to come. Make it clear to attendees why they should stay and what is in it for them. Entice them so they don’t want to miss out on a single minute.
Consider having a prize draw with well thought out, sought after prizes at the end of the day and require winners to be there to collect in person or stipulate that it will be redrawn if they are not present. A quick way to do this is to collect badges as people return for the final plenary, then quickly draw a name, verify they are there and distribute their prize.
Keep the Cat in the Bag
You may have some highly anticipated information to be announced at the event. Cleverly hint at this in the conference scheduling and throughout the day to build excitement, hype and anticipation. Everyone should know something big is about to be revealed without giving away the finer details. Ensure it is worth waiting for and save this launch until the end of the last session.
Not Too Taxing
Don’t make the final session too participatory or have too long a pause for reflection as those looking for an opportunity to leave will take it, also making others restless.
This is of course a controversial point as it goes against research which suggests that to ensure attendees get the most out of your event they should reflect and identify key personal action points before they leave.
Always have staff available at the exit from the main room to open and carefully close doors for people who do need to leave while the conference is in progress. This helps to ensure that people leave discretely and don’t draw unnecessary attention to the fact they are departing, which can have a multiplier effect.
Keep It Snappy
It is important to keep the closing thoughts succinct and on message. The summary should be insightful and well prepared to keep participants attention right to the end. Stick to time, or ideally finish slightly earlier than planned.
Request that feedback is returned with plenty of warning, don’t just mention it in the last few minutes as many will have run out of time or motivation to complete it and the response rate will be low.
Make the getaway slick for delegates by ensuring the cloakroom is well staffed, lifts are waiting and plenty of staff are on hand in case of any queries. This will give them confidence for future events that they will not be delayed when leaving.
Wow Them With Content
The greatest way to get people to stay until the final curtain is to put on a fantastic event that is valued by the attendee so that they don’t want to leave. Make sure that you meet and exceed their expectations and deliver on the event objectives, whatever they may be.
If you can get all the ingredients right then in return more people will stay until the conference close. The biggest compliment is when people have planned to leave early but actually can’t tear themselves away or when people are still networking and connecting long after the content has finished.
Whatever the finish time for your event a small percentage will always leave early, either through necessity, devilment or simply because they can, however if you follow a combination of these 13 tips you should see an improvement in attendance levels staying right through until the conference close.
What are your top tips for keeping attendees until the end of your event? We would welcome your top tips in the comments below.