Conference attendance isn’t what it used to be, what with travel budgets shrinking and online alternatives like webinars becoming more prevalent. You as an event marketer are faced with a unique challenge: how do you not only get more bodies in the door, but also make them excited to come back for future events?
This is a challenging task, to be sure, but far from an impossible one.
1. Make Your Value Proposition Clear and Compelling
Consider why you’re hosting this conference in the first place: do you simply want to hold an event to drive sales? That may be fine as an internal goal, but you need to provide value in your event’s purpose for your audience in order to achieve that and other goals.
What’s in it for them? What will they get out of attending? What is their unwanted condition? How can your content help? How can your content make them smarter? Make sure benefits are clearly defined in all your marketing materials.
2. Give People Plenty of Time to Get Excited
One of the biggest issues I see with event marketing is when marketers get too bogged down with planning the event and don’t plan far enough out to promote it. You need to send out a “save the date” notice 6 - 12 months before the conference, and continually market it every moment from that point on.
Reach your audience on multiple channels to ensure the message gets through. It’s easy to ignore an online ad, but harder to ignore a personal letter or email, and social updates.
3. Create a Communications Strategy That Builds Enthusiasm
If your conference is a must-attend event, exude that in your marketing collateral! If you’re considering offering a digital component, such as the ability to attend your event virtually, think twice: you want to make people feel they have no option but to attend in person to reap the benefits.
4. Set the Bar High for Your Speakers
Spare no expense or effort to attract the very best speakers for your event. That may mean you start recruiting years in advance; the top speakers are often booked that far out. What you don’t want is to wait until the last minute (that’s even just six months out) and end up with speakers that don’t spark excitement with your audience.
Another benefit of investing in the right speakers is that they will bring their own audience. They’re usually fairly active on social media, and can easily attract some of their die-hard fans to attend your event with a simple tweet.
5. Focus on Value-Driven Content
A mistake event marketers often make is setting up the event’s content as being just a pitch for their products or services. News flash: no one wants to fly across country, taking time out of their work schedule, to hear you try to sell your products!
Realize that if you instead focus on providing content that will make your audience smarter, they will trust your brand and be more likely to buy it than if you shoved it in their faces.
6. Know How People Like to Learn
Everyone learns differently, and because there’s so much going on at an event, it’s essential that you find new ways to engage your audience and help them retain what they learn.
Break out of the usual podium speaker situation. Consider mixing up your breakouts with panels, audience engagement, and group activities to diversify how you disseminate that information.
7. Send the Agenda in Advance
Yes, you’re likely tweaking that agenda until the last minute, but people crave it! Even if it’s not firm, send it to attendees when they register so they can plan their trip around the events you’re offering.
8. Host a Welcome Dinner
Your event shouldn’t be all about cramming information into the heads of your attendees; they benefit from networking as well. To that end, invest in a welcome dinner or reception the night before the conference kicks off. Not everyone will attend, but that makes for a more intimate networking event and serves as an icebreaker to connect attendees.
9. Promote the Event’s Social Media Profiles
People are sharers, and they’ll be happy to spread the word about your event on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, et cetera. All you have to do is make sure your social links are prevalent in all marketing material, including on the agenda, website, and slides.
Consider creating a special hashtag just for the event so that people can follow updates and connect with one another.
10. Follow Up Afterward
Your event was a success and you’re ready to collapse into a puddle. But wait! The work isn’t done! If you plan on having future events, now’s the time to reconnect with attendees and get them excited about next year’s event.
If you’re organized enough to have tickets available, offer a steep discount to this year’s attendees if they purchase next year’s tickets now. This gives you a base to work from in terms of number of attendees. Stay in touch throughout the year with exclusive peeks at the next event to keep them engaged.
The key to getting great attendance for your event is making sure the event puts the attendee at the center of everything. Consider them your customers, and bend over backwards to please them.