1. Give them what they want
Yes, it’s that easy. A well-researched conference that understands what its audience wants and needs, and delivers on its promise, will ALWAYS see better attendance. It’s that simple. But then it’s not. Conference researching is a skill, and sometimes it’s hard to make sense of conversations with the market and any other data you might stumble on. Don’t presume to know what they want (a lot happens in a year) and certainly don’t leave it to chance. Get expert help.
2. Make it unique
Yes, we say it’s all down to research, but there’s also a bit of secret sauce required. The secret sauce will vary from conference to conference. But if you’re in a competitive ocean and there are other sharks out there trying to take a bite out of your participants (ahem) then you better make sure you not just meet but exceed expectations. How do you do it? Think of the experience holistically and then break it down into moments - and find every opportunity to do something surprising, engaging and remarkable. An impromptu quiz. A surprise presenter. An experience lab. Let your imagination run wild.
3. Tap the audience
Audience participation is a true example of the old saying “the sum is greater than its parts”. People are there to not just learn, but to learn from others with the same challenges and experiences. So get them sharing! Even if the challenges someone is facing resonates with just one other person in the room, that’s a truly valuable alliance they’ll credit your conference with.
4. Launch early
We cannot stress this point enough. So many people misjudge the significance of asking participants to give up their valuable time. For anyone in a senior role in particular, it means they need to lock something into their schedule as early as possible. In our experience 3-4 months out from the event date is the minimum. Anything less and the most common objection you’ll hear is “If only you’d told me sooner”. An event with a truly unique proposition is one way to stand out and build awareness through all important word of mouth. Beyond this the options to promote are many and varied - and proliferating daily. But you don’t need to be a master of all of them. The channels that “work” will again come down to one simple fact: you need to know your audience. And importantly, how they find and consume information.
5. Maintain momentum
The point about getting the event into people’s diaries early is only half the battle won. You will find there are lots of laggards that will wait until the very last minute to sign up. But you still need to get their earlier intent to sign up. So whether you like it or not, you need to stretch your communication budget for quite some time. Plan accordingly!
6. Remember the big picture
Conferences can be complex beasts. It’s all too easy to get lost in the details. And without a theme or red thread, you can easily lose your way. Always step back and ask: “How does this aspect of the programme link to the bigger picture?” And most importantly how does it add value to the participant journey and the overall experience. This ”test” should be applied to every session and if it’s not clear, tweak it or chuck it.
7. Make the outcomes clear
The essential “Why this event?” question. If you can’t articulate it, you can be sure your prospective participants won’t figure it out for themselves. And if they’re not clear, then the real “value” of joining will be in doubt - irrespective of whether it’s paid or free to join, for an internal or external audience. No matter the scenario, you want your participants to be clear on why they’re there and what they will get from giving up their time and attention. And if your event is done the right way, show them how their participation will actually drive the agenda and shape the outcomes.
8. Help them justify the investment
Attending a conference costs – either time or money or both; so you better be sure it’s clear what the benefits of joining will be. Beyond the insights they’ll be privy to, it’s important to be clear on how the format will be unique and engaging. Pretty much everything shared at a conference is already online in some form. Reality is, people come to a conference to meet and engage with other people IRL. And the easier you make it known who else will be attending, the more likely others will sign up.
9. Leave them wowed
Nothing beats favourable word of mouth of a past event for helping drive attendance at the next edition. So make this edition the best it can be and you will all but guarantee repeat and new attendance next time.
10. Create a sense of scarcity and reap the benefits of FOMO
If you’re this far down the list then you probably have a fairly good grasp of what your event’s proposition is. Which means it’s down to how to make people want to join. Take things up a notch by using limited seats (yes, that old trick really works!), make it invite-only (but allow people the possibility to apply for an invite), or include an application process. Yes, this last suggestion is more work, but the prospect will “self-select”; and only those that really want to join will make the effort which results in fewer time wasters. As an added bonus, you get data insights - invaluable for a myriad of applications.