This post was written by WeMN member, Dr. Amy Jauman
I’ve been getting the same question from business owners and event organizers lately: Is it worth it to host free events anymore? The concern doesn’t seem to come from giving away content without charge. It’s the cost of hosting an event, having a respectable number of people commit to coming only to have a fraction actually attend. Room rental, food, speaker fees and the organizer’s time add up.
If only a small number of people attend, is it worth it?
And why has it become so common to RSVP to an event and then not attend?
Of course there are times when kids get sick, you get a flat tire on the way or a last minute client emergency keeps you from attending. I know I’ve registered for things and then no-showed. But I’m not talking about someone who misses one event; I’m talking about the staggering percentages of no-shows I’ve been observing lately.
- A friend of mine hosts regular free gatherings for a work community. People have the option to RSVP as going, not going or just interested (so they can receive updates). The discrepancy between the people who say they are going and the people who actually show up is consistently so drastic, when she calculates food and seating, she uses 20% of the confirmed “going” number. She says she always has more than enough.
- A speaker friend of mine was the guest presenter for a free presentation for a niche group. 17 people confirmed their attendance – ever reconfirmed after a follow-up email. Food for 20 was prepared and 2 people showed up.
- I was at an event last month where I learned that an annual membership was paid to cover event fees – though visitors could attend for a one-time fee if they were interested. I talked to the coordinator after and learned that all of the visitors showed up, but over half of the members who registered (and didn’t have to pay an additional fee) never appeared.
It’s possible I’m seeing suddenly seeing these no-shows everywhere because I’ve started wondering what is making so many people break their commitments. But the numbers don’t lie. These are staggering and costly no-show rates. What’s causing so many people to RSVP yes only to not attend?
- When there isn’t a fee, do people use RSVPs as a placeholder on their calendars? In other words, do they RSVP as a way of indicating interest, not commitment?
- Is this an example of intent versus willingness? Do people want to be the kind of person who attends events, but when it comes time to go they simply have other ways they’d prefer to spend their time?
- Is it possible people just don’t realize food has been purchased, room size determined and handouts made based on their indication that they would attend? There are certainly times when I’ve thought, “Oh, I’m just one person. No one will miss me.”
What should event planners do?
When I started my company a few years ago, I heard over and over again that you should never do anything for free. I didn’t agree. I had coffee with small business owners, helped entrepreneurs and even met with owners of established organizations who needed help thinking through something I happened to know about. The time I spent with each of them didn’t result in an hourly rate paid on the spot, but it always paid off in recognition, referrals or even development of my own. Yes, you have to be smart about what and how much you offer for free, but I can’t believe the right answer is “never.”
But when I look at all of the people hosting events at no charge – and there are a lot of them – I see so few that are well-attended.
What is the solution?
- Should we all plan on a 50% no-show rate if an event is free?
- Should we only do free events if there are no costs involved (no room rental, food or speaker fee)?
- Do we always charge something – even $5 – to keep from RSVPing without giving it any thought?
- Do we count events as marketing efforts and attempt to benefit from the exposure of the event more than the event itself? After all, social media posts and people talking about our upcoming event is good press.
I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please share your ideas in the comments.
Dr. Amy Jauman is the Chief Education Officer and Owner of Remotely Smart, a virtual company that provides professional development support to remote and traditional organizations. Since she began her work as Remotely Smart, Amy has worked with every size organization from Fortune 100 to solopreneurs – meeting each where they are by supporting development program to meet their educational needs.
Amy has a masters degree in experiential education and a doctorate in organization development. Amy is also Certified Social Media Strategist and Instructor and has been teaching adult learners online and in a traditional classroom for more than 15 years. Currently she is an adjunct professor in the St. Catherine University Business Department. You can learn more about her by connecting on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and her blog!