At our latest TEDxStockholm event we experienced what almost all event organizers also do: a lot of people have signed up to attend just don’t arrive for the event.
We had 150 seats available and since we were met with lots of enthusiasm when we announced the event, we were worried about having to turn away many. So we clearly wrote in all invitation posts and emails that you had to apply for a seat and we would send out confirmations on the Friday before the event on Sunday, June 13.
Shelby Bonnie speaking. What you don’t see here are the empty seat rows in the back…
We had calculated with 10% no-shows, so we sent out confirmation emails to 165 people on the schedule.
Here is what happened:
During the weekend, we received 12 emails or twitter messages with cancellations, so we still had 153 reservations.
We also received 9 new requests to get a seat, even though the registration was closed. I turned away these people, since I was afraid that we would be over our capacity of 150.
At the event on Sunday evening, only 112 of the 153 confirmed people showed up.
So we had a no-show rate of 27%!
Another 6 people showed up at the door and said that they had heard about the event and wanted to attend.
We were a bit sorry for this since we had turned away people that wanted to come. But there was still great energy in the room and the event was a big sucess. And the local police was happy since we gave them our remaining food plates…
So what did we learn?
My conclusion: People don’t read instructions so we should have sent our remindersearlier and in more ways. We got explanations like these:
“Since I did not hear from you a week before the event I made other plans” (We said in the sign-up form that confirmation emails would be sent out on the Friday)
“I thought the registration started at 19.00″ (we said 18.00 in the confirmation email and on the web site)
“I could not find the venue” (we had very clear information in the confirmation email and on the web site)
People forget about their plans:
“I completely forgot about the event.”
“I thought it was next Sunday”
My guess is that this is because we now live in an information overflow society with a lot of buzz in many channels. There are many smart tools to handle this with online calendars and reminders etc, but most people don’t use these, there is too much choice. We rely more on being buzzed and reminded all the time so we can re-negotiate continuously. The main problem is that there is no single way of communcation that works for all. We all need to take this into consideration when we communicate.
What did we do wrong?
In hindsight, I think we should have:
- Sent out the confirmation emails at least 5 days ahead
- Sent out another confirmation email the day before or on the morning of the event day
- Sent out an SMS text message on the morning of the event day (surprisingly many people said that they did not access their email during the weekend)
- Overbooked with 20%
What do you think? Please share your experiences.
Some people told us that we should charge a SEK400 fee for no-shows, like they do at other seminars. But this is a non-profit event, so I am not sure that would be OK, besides, does that really work?