Attending To Attendance

These days, potential attendees need all the help you can give them to justify their participation in your event.

Here are three approaches you can take.

Associations are pulling out all the stops to attract qualified attendees to register for their conferences. Some are leveraging social media to help (video testimonials, blogs, and tweets), while others are equipping prospective attendees with information to help gain attendance approval.

Some associations include a “why attend” section in their advance brochure or on their Web site. Others create top 10 lists or even break down the benefits by attendee type or demographic. Whatever you include in your “why attend” pitch, you need to make it short, easy to find, and feature it in your e-marketing and testimonials – over and over again.

The Business Case
This is probably the approach used by most associations. It appeals to the common-sense thinker and identifies desired outcomes that should result from participating. In this economy, associations are emphasizing that, more than ever before, you need education and connections to thrive – and you need them now.

Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) created a Top 10 List of reasons why industry professionals needed to attend its 2009 Expo. This list effectively created a sense of urgency and offered specific solutions PPAI’s members would find at the meeting to help them navigate through their current pains. The Web page detailed how PPAI education would help members win new business, improve lifetime account value, and hone their marketing skills.

PPAI concluded its Top 10 List with this statement: “Times are tough right now. Every dollar is earmarked; every sale is an absolute must. But what the PPAI Expo has to offer is a way to push through, to rise above.” I like that kind of optimism!

Tools for Selling Up the Ladder
This approach takes the principles used in the Business Case to another level. Associations – mostly education associations – actually provide a sample template that potential attendees can use as a starting point for getting budget approval or buy-in from their boss, or for justifying expenditures to the local media. Two strong examples come from the National School Board Association and the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

What I like about this approach is that it forces attendees to document what they expect to get out of their participation. After going through this exercise, they should show up with a game plan regarding the sessions they are going to attend, the exhibits they need to visit, and the people they should seek out. I’ve got to believe that anyone attending a conference with a plan in place is going to get more out of attending than someone who just shows up and goes with the flow.

Quantifying ROI
The ultimate way to convince someone who is on the fence about registering and attending your conference is to help them with the math to lower their risk. I really like what the National Association of College Stores did in 2009. Here are a few highlights:

  • “Take advantage of exhibitor show specials. More than 92 percent of 2008 attendees saved an average of $2,220.”
  • “Build relationships that nurture success. Nearly 93 percent of 2008 attendees said the opportunity to share ideas and challenges with peers was a major benefit of attending.”
  • “Engage in the latest industry education. Nearly 96 percent of 2008 attendees agreed that information provided by educational sessions helped them stay up-to-date on industry issues.”
  • “Find cool new merchandise. Nearly 99 percent of 2008 attendees thought that products on the trade-show floor were relevant to their purchasing needs.”

Like most conference Web sites, these examples come and go with each annual conference. Keep an eye out for best practices used by associations in various industries. As we get better at pitching the benefits to attend our events, we need to help each other continue to raise that bar.

Take Away
If you can help your organization by delivering improved attendance-acquisition results, your stock goes way up. There are numerous ways to articulate and communicate the benefits of attending, including testimonials, top 10 lists, and summarizing survey data.

This post was reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. © 2010

What other ways have you used or seen to help attendees pitch the need to attend an event?

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