10 ways to ensure great attendance numbers at your networking events

As a professional speaker and a supporter of not for profit groups and associations, I am always intrigued why some events have very small numbers of attendees and others have hundreds of people. A few weeks ago, I spoke to one group of 8 people one day, 10 people the next day and 300 people the next day. Yes they were all in different locations, but the one with 300 people stood out for all the right reasons. Would love to share some of those reasons with you:

1. The organisers of this event were extremely organised. Once they verbally confirmed my involvement with the event, they confirmed the engagement in writing, the fee involved, location, timing etc. And this was confirmed 3 months before the event. Plus they requested my information, photo etc. at that time, so everything was completed then and there. The date was locked in, there was no confusion.

TIP: Many organisers volunteer their time and are juggling their roles, leaving many things to the last minute. However, once you lock in the speaker and confirm the date in writing, request the title of the talk, topic outline, bio, photo and introduction. Then you have everything finalised and ready for the invitation. As soon as you get the information create the invitation  so everything is done then and there.

2. They have a large database of local people who have attended events before and give those people lots of notice about the event dates. Personally I think  the more notice you give for events, the more chance you have of people attending. You really want people to lock this into their diary as a “Yes, I am definitely attending this event, and I will mention it to my friends.” If possible give people at least 4-5 weeks (minimum) notice about your event.

TIP: If you hold regular events, it helps to have a set day of the month when your events will happen. Years ago when I ran women’s networks. We met for dinner on the first Thursday of the month in the city and the 3rd Wednesday of the month in Parramatta. Members and guests knew weeks ahead what dates to hold PLUS we had invitations prepared months ahead so if people could not attend one month, they would book for the following month. And I realise in regional areas sometimes there is a need to be flexible with dates to accommodate the availability of industry experts in your region. The more organised you are, the easier it will be for you to attract good speakers – if they are not available one month, they may be able to juggle their schedules for a future event.

3. The organiser worked very closely with their sponsors and managed to secure a local community newspaper as one of the sponsors. This meant that a half page advertisement was used to promote the event over a couple of months lead up – again ensuring locals knew about the event. And the newspaper sponsor presented briefly on the day.

TIP: In a tight corporate market working win/win with sponsors is imperative. You can never guarantee that a sponsor will generate business from sponsoring an event, but if you make sure that you give them lots of recognition and show appreciation for their support – it can go a  long way to ensure their return on investment and repeat sponsorship at future events.

4. If your members or guests are notorious for late bookings – give them an incentive to book and prepay by a certain date prior to the event. Early bird booking draws can be just the incentive your potential guests need to lock in the date, and book and prepay.

TIP: Let your members know that they can donate this early bird booking prize for one or more events. Remember to ask for help before you need it and again plan your early bird incentives for at least 3 forward events, rather than leaving everything to the last minute.

5. Using social media to promote your event has never been easier. Talking about your event and who is attending on your Face book page enables you to spread the word about your event. Plus listing it on LinkedIn in the events area can attract more non members,who respond to your keywords in your promotion. Plus twitter, podcasts with short interviews from the guests speakers, free webinars, YouTube bites – are all great ways of getting your event message out.

TIP: If you are not across all social media, look within your membership or networks for social media people who can help you with this promotion. Outsourcing this task can be a great way of saving you time and tapping into an expert’s expertise. False economy is trying to do it all yourself if you are unsure where to start.

6. The more you tell, the more you sell. Most professional speakers provide a title and outline of what they will speak about tailored to who is potentially going to be in the audience. Again once you have defined your audience, you can use a standard confirmation letter/email that outlines everything the speaker needs to know. Your membership website probably has this information anyway. I was very disappointed recently when I had provided a 250 word description for a small business presentation, weeks before the event  – and all that had been used was a description – Robyn Henderson – Networking Guru – Networking To Win. Networking To Win is the name of my business, I personally loathe the word guru, and not surprisingly only 7 people showed up. Reality is the organiser might know lots about the speaker, but the potential attendees have never heard of them.

Yes it was a regional area, but one I had driven 400 kms to be at. I suggested to the organiser that if they are limited for space with their invitation promotion – at least include the speaker’s website so that potential guests can read more about the speaker before they decide to attend. With only 7 people in attendance, the future of the network will ultimately be at risk because it becomes financially unviable for the organisers to continue holding the event. Not to mention the venues are annoyed when the numbers are low. Some insist on minimum numbers and this can drive up the overheads for the organisers as well.  Our time is so precious these days, we want to be sure we are not going to waste a  minute of it by seeing a speaker that we really don’t know much about.

TIP: Again if you are volunteering your time or find that the invitation is the last thing that you get to every month, consider engaging a virtual assistant who can create the invitations for you and aim to plan at least 3 months ahead. You will be surprised at your positive results and it will be worth engaging a professional to do the invitations for you. Remember the more you tell about the potential event, the more you sell.

7. Show bags are a great way of helping members to promote their businesses to the audience. One of my favourite networks is Women’s Network Australia www.womensnetwork.com.au Lynette Palmen is the WNA founder and runs excellent meetings across Australia with a set format and meeting flow. Whether you are in Perth or Albury, you know that the format will be consistent. One of the win/win opportunities WNA offers its members is if the member donates a lucky door prize at the event, they can include their flyer in the show bag on the seat. Obviously they have to arrive earlier at the  event to insert their flyers, but everyone gets an opportunity to win their donated gift and hear more about their business. Plus the member who donates the gifts, draws the prize winner at the end of the meeting. The Christmas event is fantastic, more than 50% of attendees usually give prizes so it is lots of fun.

TIP: A show bag does not have to be an expensive item – maybe a local business, bank, hotel or restaurant may donate the bags as a cross promotional opportunity. And giving guests a show bag ensures that the tables don’t end up with lots of paper everywhere. I always recommend to people that they look at every item in their show bag, when they take it home,  and if it is not relevant to them, it may be relevant to someone in their network and they can pass it on.

8. Name tags are a non negotiable MUST at every networking event. As a baby boomer, 50 plus, I admit to forgetting names from time to time. Interestingly in Geelong recently, I asked a group of 100 under 35s, “who in the room has trouble remembering names?” and more than 80% of the room raised their hand.  Make sure the name tags are at least 16 point font and easy to read. Many networks have a different name tag for their committee or executive, which is a great idea for two reasons. Firstly, they will gain recognition for the role they have within the network and secondly, different name tags makes it really easy for new members or first time attendees to  know who to approach with their queries.

TIP: If it is a very large event, it may be useful to have a number of registration tables with the classifications clearly marked on the table and high enough above the table for people to read from a distance e.g. A – D, E-K, L-S, T-Z. I would recommend that you sort the name tags alphabetically by surname. And help the registration person by given them an alphabetical attendee list and a highlight pen to mark guest names as they arrive. Such a minor thing and I cannot tell you how many times this is overlooked creating a bottle neck at registration.

9. Start the meeting on time and finish on time. One of my first speaking mentors, Doug Malouf, drummed this home to me 20 years ago when I launched my speaking business and ran women’s networks. Everyone’s time is really valuable – not just the speakers. If the meeting says 12.15 for a 12.30 start – 2.30 pm Start the meeting on time and finish on time. If there is a situation where some guests are delayed for whatever reason, acknowledge that situation when you start the proceedings, so that other guests won’t be too disrupted with the late arrivals, but START ON TIME!

TIP:  I have emceed many events and I always check with the organiser how flexible they want to be with time. However, I stress to them, if we don’t start on time, we cannot expect to finish on time. And the fall out or disruption created in the kitchen when time blows out can be the difference between a great meal and a disaster.

10. Appoint two meet and greet persons for the event. Ideally two friendly people, who can arrive early and are happy to take on the role. A meet and greet person does exactly that – “Hi I am Robyn, thanks for coming tonight?’ If it is the guest’s first time at the event and/or the guest knows no one in the room, the first meet and greet person, then takes them away from the registration table and introduces them to their next person – the second meet and greet person. You can have great speakers, great food, great atmosphere, but if a guest feels awkward or unwelcome, they don’t come back.

TIP: I encourage networks to put a small star sticker or a small dot – something to indicate to “the regulars” that this guest is a first timer at this event. The reason is to make the person feel special and make it easier for them to be identified. Don’t even think about doing this if you don’t have a couple of people lined up to look out for the first timers. However, if you do take this step, you will be surprised how quickly these guests become members. Great news travels fast – people love to share their positive (and negative) experiences today via social media, word of mouth and networking.

I firmly believe when you put the time in to create systems that work and you stick to the systems and ensure that September’s meeting format is similiar to July’s meeting format, your members will respond to your professionalism and keep coming back to your events. That is not to say I would not encourage innovation – however, every event MUST start with a plan, a checklist and an awareness. This is what we do to ensure we can create the potentially best event possible within our budget. We do this because we want our members, guest speakers and guests to have a fantastic experience, to feel that they have justified taking x hours out of their busy day to attend the event, and that we respect the financial and time investment they give us every time they book to attend an event.

These are my 10 tips based on experiences in the last few weeks. Feel free to let me know what you think  attracts people to attend events in today’s crowded networking events space. And look out for my  future blogs on the latest global networking event models.

Until next time – happy networking.

4 Responses to “10 ways to ensure great attendance numbers at your networking events”

  1. Patsy Rowe Says:

    This is just wonderful advice! I read it with great interest and hope that others do too. Congratulations on covering this topic so thoroughly, I’m sure those organizers who’ve wondered why they haven’t been able to get the numbers, will be very grateful for this advice.

  2. Olwen Anderson Says:

    Thanks for this Robyn. Really valuable tips. I’ve printed it out to discuss your ideas with the rest of the MBW team.

  3. Olwen Anderson Says:

    Thanks Robyn – really valuable information, especially as you attend so many events. I’ve printed it out to discuss with the rest of the MBW organising team.

  4. Andy Fred Says:

    Hey Robyn, your imputed idea with how increase of attendance numbers at a networking events is an effective advice. Actually effective and practical advice is always granted by all.

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