If you haven’t come up with a great New Year’s resolution yet, I have one for you: RSVP and mean it. For most of us running events in the current economic climate - it does matter. Few businesses can afford to plan for an event and then pay for people who don’t show up. The opposite problem can be equally difficult and expensive, particularly if you have to cover extra costs for the arrogant few who decide to ‘rocka up’ at the last minute.
So how do you ‘de-risk’ an event and ensure you are not overestimating or underestimating the numbers you are catering for? Most would say the key to success with all events, large and small, is in the planning. I fully agree with that, but if you don’t communicate your plans you may as well not bother. So, here are my 10 tips to secure successful attendance at an event :
• Send a timely invitation. Too soon and many won’t commit; too late and people’s diaries will be full.
• If you are expecting out-of-town attendees, make sure the event is timed to make catching flights an easy exercise – if someone can avoid the expense of a night in a hotel it is likely to increase attendance.
• Clearly articulate when an RSVP is expected – put this in bold and make sure it is clear that you expect a response.
• Follow up immediately on any emails that have bounced or are not delivered for any reason. Even on regularly used databases, this is inevitable.
• Send a reminder email two days prior to the RSVP deadline. Be sure to use the same subject line and terminology in referring to the event so you don’t get people responding thinking it is another event entirely.
• Make sure you leave time to follow up by phone with non-respondents, should you fall short of your target numbers.
• Budget for no-shows. No matter what the event, you’ll always get them. The number of no-shows is determined by a number of factors – including time of day, location, weather, parking and the type of event. It varies from city to city – so get some local knowledge. Experience will help you, but if you are just starting out, my rule of thumb is to expect at least 5 to 10 percent to be unable to attend a paid for event and 15 percent plus if it’s free.
• If you want to create a buffer, include some of your staff or other ‘friendlies’ amongst the confirmed numbers so you have the option of reassigning their seats should your official attendance be better than you expected. This is a particularly good idea if you are managing a free event where the full cost of the catering is coming from your pocket.
• Make sure you send out reminders 24 to 48 hours before the event to all those that are planning on attending; if nothing else this helps them focus on the right day, right place and logistics around parking or gaining entry to the event.
• Plan for the unexpected. Work through as many ‘what ifs’ you can think of - including airport closures if you have large numbers travelling.
Events can be fun and very rewarding, but organising one can deliver the most stressful days of your life. Communicating everything to everyone, before, during and after the event is critical to its success. But remember, it is a two-way communication. Next time you RSVP, make sure you mean it. Not responding or just showing up anyway is not only rude, these days it is also expensive.
Bob Pinchin is the director of Sway.tech, a specialist communications house for technology companies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org