How to minimize event no-shows

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:

  1. Sent out the confirmation emails at least 5 days ahead
  2. Sent out another confirmation email the day before or on the morning of the event day
  3. 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)
  4. 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?

Published by

Henrik Ahlén

I am an eHealth Strategist in Stockholm, Sweden I drive eHealth development projects from needs analysis and idea generation to service design and implementation. See my LinkedIn profile:

8 thoughts on “How to minimize event no-shows”

  1. I found this post useful for planning our TEDxUniversityofGlasgow event – thanks! Our licence is capped at 100 places and demand will certainly exceed the supply. Therefore selling the right amount of tickets is essential.

    We are planning to offer “no refunds later than 7 days before the event” policy so the no-shows would not get their money back. Do you think it is reasonable? Thank you in advance.

  2. We’re preparing for our first event TEDxEmeraldHill in July so I found your post really helpful.

    I agree that keeping people enthusiastic so they remember that they wanted to attend is important and communicating frequently right up to the day seems a good strategy.

    Does anyone else have any strategies that they’ve applied to get them a smaller no-show ratio?

  3. Is it possible to take a seat deposit that is only refundable if the person shows up? If not it will go to a charity. People are more likely to remember something if they paid for it!

  4. Is it possible to take a seat deposit that is only refundable if the person shows up?
    If not it will go to a charity.
    People are more likely to remember something if they paid for it!

  5. Great post, thank you for writing this!

    I faced a similar challenge for TEDxCMU – only ~350 of the 443 invited ended up actually coming (we were also on a Sunday: Easter Sunday).

    I feel a better solution would be not to anticipate a large percentage of people not coming, but instead to find out how to make them feel committed to coming to the event by charging a small fee that would help cover event costs. This would 1) give you extra funds to buy awesome materials for attendees, and 2) make people feel committed to coming because they already paid for it.

  6. Back when I worked with events we expected 30% no-shows on more crowded less personal events, so that sounds about right. So overbooking with 20% might be the way to go.

  7. I think you should definitely be comfortable with charging 400 sek for no-shows. You could then make better use of that money and gift them for charity.

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