10 Super Simple Ways to Boost Your Conference Opening and Closing Attendance

By Sam Glenn, the Attitude Guy
www.samglenn.com

Simple Ideas Work

I want to share just a few very simple ideas that I know will help boost your attendance at both your opening and closing.  I am a big believer in simple. Planning an event requires many details that aren’t always simple, but complicating things is a recipe for a mess and more stress.

My simple ideas based on 20 years of opening and closing conferences for more than 2000 audiences and some as large as 75,000 people at stadium events.

Boost Conference Opening and
Closing Attendance:

1) Sometimes my clients will ask me (a presenter) to help promote their event on social media and post little videos to build the buzz for the conference.

    • If you follow The Rock on social media, he is always doing little videos to promote, thank and connect with his audience.
    • The result – it works!  Have people in leadership do this and presenters.
    • These videos don’t need a production crew – just a minute at most to connect and build a buzz for the event.

2) If you want attendees to stay until the very end, the very end should be smoking hot! 

Have you ever noticed that the number of people who stay until the very end of the conference is often times significantly less than those who started the conference?

WHY didn’t they plan to
stay in the first place?

There are a number of reasons people don’t stay until the end of a conference. Mostly it’s because they didn’t plan to stay in the first place.  It’s because:

  • The closing just isn’t worth sticking around for.
  • They don’t feel like they are going to miss out on anything special or valuable to them.

I know that sounds a little harsh, but it’s the ugly truth. People go off of past event experiences. So if past closings were not that great, the assumption and expectation of future closings will be the same as past ones, so I will take the early flight home.

The big question is, how do
you get people from leaving early?

Think of it this way, it’s the 4th of July and everyone gets in the car so you can find a great place to sit and watch the big fireworks display.  When you attend a fireworks display, it’s exciting at the start, but there is an even bigger feeling of excitement and expectation – the grand finale!!!

Have you ever seen crowds of people BOLT before the grand finale? No way!  You just know it’s going to be awesome. You can’t wait!  And yes, you end up sitting in traffic for an hour after it’s all over trying to get home, but it was worth it.

If you want a higher attendance at your closings, then you need to upgrade your closing to a grand finale experience.

HIGHER ATTENDANCE = GRAND FINALE
CLOSING EXPERIENCE!

One example we can learn from is a group that had me as their closing keynote presenter, had 2000 people registered for the conference, yet only 150 showed up at the closing.

Do you know how weird and awkward that is speaking to 150 people scattered throughout a room that is purposed to fit 2000 people?  It’s not a good site.  There is no energy or in depth connection that captivates you. Most people at this event sat in the back of the conference hall, while exhibitors packed up and were loud and distracting. The lesson is the planning team just didn’t see the closing as “big deal” and when this happens; nobody else will see it as a big deal, so why stick around?

People will stay when it’s a big deal.  Finish strong!
Remember, it’s not how we start a race,
but how we finish that matters.

3)  Get feedback.

Since every group and industry does things differently; I think the best place to start is by asking people point blank, “What type of closing would have to happen in order for you to miss your flight and want to stay until the very end?”

It’s easy to get this in a survey, but have people in leadership roles connect with a personal touch and ask this.  Doing this will give you an idea of what a great closing session can be to your particular group.

4)  Offer extra educational credits.

But, offering extra credits for your industry can definitely increase attendance at the start and finish of your conference.  It doesn’t have an emotional “wow” factor, but it can logically work to motivate people to stay until the very end of the event.

5)  Do Door Prizes Right.
Bigger Prizes Aren’t Always Better

The bigger the door prize doesn’t always mean a bigger attendance at the end.  I just remember at one conference, this one attendee won a huge 65 inch TV. Most people would be excited with such a win, but she was not. Her response was, “How the hell do I get this thing home? Who is going to pay for shipping? I’m not!” She wasn’t happy.

I think the best door prizes for the best responses are gift cards, gift certificates to experiences like travel or the prized favorite- cash!

People love cash – who doesn’t?
Cash is always king when it comes to
door prizes. It just is.

One company I worked for did table cash drawings – it was pretty awesome and expensive.  So, how it worked was they had 100 tables in the room (10 people per table) and during the closing, they would randomly pick a number out of a hat – so if they called table 3, the entire table would go up and get a cash prize.  It gets cooler!  Before they picked the table number, they pulled another number out of a hat and that was the amount everyone at the table would each win.  So some tables won $25 each, $50 and $100.

However, what really got the blood flowing in the room was when they did the cash drawings for $250,$500 and $1000.  So if 10 people are sitting at a table and your number gets called – everyone at that table is going to get $1000 cash! I know that’s insane!  I don’t even work for that company, but I want to go to their closings every year.

Some tables were designated for higher rewards and people could win seats at those tables throughout the conference.  It was like you were on “The Price Is Right”.  This is an expensive way to do a closing, but wow – what a grand finale!  It works! People stay!  In fact, this closing becomes a marketing tool that more people want to sign up early for next year’s conference.  They make it fun, entertaining, rewarding – it’s a grand finale! 

The group I just closed for in North Dakota did something like this, they did a drawing of 50 names and those people walked up and got $100 cash.  The closing had the most attendance they have ever had because they built it up and made it worth the stay.

Even if you have a tight budget,
you can be creative and find ways
to make your opening and closing
segments memorable.

When I hosted a National Leadership Conference in Chicago, we had a shoe string budget, so one thing we did was move our event site from a hotel location to a meeting site that was just a different setting than the norm.  That was a big draw for us.  Our attendees loved it!  Mostly because it wasn’t like every type of conference they have ever been too.  We had to think creative to make it a great event and we did.

6)  Network and find out what others are doing at their closings.

  • You may pick up 2 or 3 really good ideas that will improve your closing attendance and make you look like a rock star.
  • Always be looking for ideas and asking what others are doing.
  • It doesn’t mean you mimic what others are doing, but rather take an idea and tweak it a little.

7)  Wrapping up the conference in the evening, so the next day people can get back home or back to work at a reasonable time.

  • I know this isn’t always possible, but when it is–attendees tend to stay until the last event or function if it goes into the evening.
  • Maybe offer breakfast and do a short wrap at breakfast the next day, so people can get on the road.
  • I personally think it’s a tough wrap to do at lunch.  Many do it and I tip my hat to them, but it makes for a tougher closing. For some reason, a closing lunch seems to draw a lower crowd attendance.

8)  For really strong opening and closings, I suggest to upgrade your speakers and presenters.

Have you ever eaten something with little to no flavor?  It’s not enjoyable is it?  Well, some conference openings and closings have no flavor to them. Nobody is going to line up to taste something that has no flavor.

I often share with event planners, the reason why conference rooms fill up from the back of the room first is people just don’t trust the stage.  Attendees want to separate themselves from potential boredom and the unexpected.

They want a spot where they can play on their phone, easily get up and walk out, blend in or just not be caught drifting off to sleep, doodling or daydreaming.

Remember, positioning of speakers
for your opening and closing
segments is everything!

EVERYTHING!

Most of my clients hire me as a kick off presenter because they know I’m going to set a tone and energy for the rest of the event.  As you research speakers, you want someone that draws people in, has energy, captivates, and is memorable.  I can’t stress that aspect enough – It has to be memorable.

So maybe don’t kick things off with a social media expert or wrap things up with a futurist.  You get the picture. My advice, upgrade the stage experience.  Just because someone is a bestselling author and their demo clips seem good, doesn’t always mean they are a good kick off or closing presenter.  You want them to have the fourth of July Power to their presentation – where people show up early to get a good seat and don’t leave before the grand finale.  Remember, positioning of presentations and presenters is the key.

9.  Have an engaging and proactive theme for your event.

Some groups have a simple theme and build around it.  But a very proactive theme can take your event energy to a new level.

When I wrote the book, Be Your Own Superhero – how to be a real life superhero in leadership, service and life, my clients started using that theme for their events.  People dressed as their favorite superhero. They had contest. They had ice breakers and activities and giveaways customized around this theme.  Having a theme like this makes your event more memorable and engaging.

Trust me – this is awesome.  My superhero theme is a hit.  If you do it, you need to give me credit!  Being an everyday superhero is one of my most requested speeches – and it’s really good.

10.  This is the most important factor and sometimes the hardest – be consistent with your kick off and grand finale.

If you are starting from scratch and making some upgrades, don’t expect 100% buy in from everyone at once.  It takes time to achieve momentum and progress.  That is okay, if you are consistent with your efforts and make your opening and closing awesome, you will notice an increase in attendance at both your openings and closings. The other benefit to this is it becomes a huge selling point that gets people excited about coming back the next year, early registrations, attracts new members and more people wanting to attend.

In closing, planning a conference
or large event isn’t easy.

You are trying to make many different personalities happy and that isn’t always an easy job.  Sometimes that pat on the back isn’t going to be there, but someone complaining about something will be.  My advice is to not complicate what is meant to be kept simple.  But have fun doing it!  When you are having fun, it’s going to turn out so much better for you and others.  My wife always tells me before every speech, “Sam, just have fun. If you have fun, everyone will have fun.”

Sometimes you gotta step out of the comfort zone and try new things or do things different than prior years.  Some things may work and some may not. Just keep learning. Do the best you can and always remember the best pat on the back is the one you give yourself!

Sam Glenn keynote motivational speakerAbout Sam Glenn, The Attitude Guy
For the past 20 years, Sam Glenn has become recognized as a meeting planner’s delight. Sam’s speeches are award winning, his books are top sellers and he also is a talented performance artist.  Sam has been named Speaker of the Year several times by different meeting and event organizations and magazines.  

For more information on booking Sam Glenn, the Attitude Guy for your conference or meeting kick off, visit:
www.samglenn.com  Or email his office: contact@samglenn.com

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