Getting enough people to register for a conference is one thing, but enticing them to stay until the last day is another issue entirely. Attendees' attention is split in so many direction, and might tempted to duck out of a multiday event early. But a little extra effort and a revamp of the agenda can work wonders to keep participants on site until the end.
"Conferences are like marathons. You want to allow attendees to keep their pace and then be driven toward the finish line," said Tracy Judge, founder of Soundings Connect, a marketplace that connects brands with freelance meeting planners. "What our event consultants believe works best is to change the energy levels throughout the event. Leave time in the agenda for attendees to get some rest and uptake the information they've gathered throughout the day. Then, push them toward the finish line."
Below, industry experts offer four tips for keeping attendance up throughout the entire event.
1. Arrange the Agenda with Care
Planners who struggle with low attendance on the last day should take a hard look at their agenda's lineup. Rather than holding another run-of-the-mill session with a ho-hum closing speaker, meeting professionals suggest saving the best activities and presenters for last.
"Arrange your speakers and activities so the highlights are on the last day of the conference," said Lauren Grech, CEO of LLG Agency and adjunct professor of New York University's event management program. "Build up to the keynote speaker and any celebrity entertainment or over-the-top performances, so attendees are eager to stay until this special part of the conference."
Judge suggests event coordinators follow the format of top industry associations such as Meeting Professionals International and the Professional Convention Management Association.
"MPI and PCMA both do this well," said Judge. "MPI's format has been to put on a big event the final night. In 2018, they closed the World Education Congress at the Indianapolis 500 Racetrack. PCMA nailed it at Convening Leaders 2020 by closing the conference with Condoleezza Rice."
2. Up the Stakes
Another option for planners to consider is to offer hard-to-resist prizes, which are only eligible to those who stay throughout the event. Attendees might not ditch the last sessions if staying gives them a chance to win a free hotel stay, a spa voucher or round-trip plane tickets.
"Incorporate a scavenger hunt with some key element that must be collected at the sessions prior to the final keynote or entertainment portion," recommends Grech. "Make it exclusive by only letting in the attendees who have all pieces of the scavenger hunt or collected elements."
3. Tap into FOMO
FOMO, the fear of missing out, is key to getting guests to stay through the last day of an event, according to Melinda Burdette, director of events at MPI.
"You have to create a compelling reason for them to stay," said Burdette. "Whether that be in the form of keynote speakers, entertainment or other experiences, create a FOMO experience and your attendees will be more apt to stay through the conference."
Beyond celebrity concerts, killer keynotes and big prizes, meeting planners can set up a few experiential activities that guests will be sure to stick around for and document on social media. A unique CSR program or a puppy-petting station are two possible options.
"The best way I have found to keep people through to the end is to create a uniquely fun (and share-worthy) session, moment or activity," said Trish Simitakos, an event planner based in Washington, D.C. "Puppy-petting stations popped up in 2019 as a thing, and we can expect to start seeing more petting-zoo-style sessions at conferences this year (think llamas, donkeys, alpacas and kittens). This is a great way to do something off-brand but fun. What animal lover doesn't want puppy selfies?"
4. Schedule the Last Session for the End of the Week
The bleisure trend, where participants combine business travel with leisure activities, is taking off among attendees. According to research from SAP Concur, the number of bleisure trips grew 20 percent from 2017 to 2018. Meeting planners can use this to their advantage, scheduling the event to end on Thursday or Friday, so guests can easily extend their stays a few days after, without having to take time off.
"Take a look at the scheduling of your conference, especially if it's a destination event that many attendees are traveling for. If your attendees are traveling and you schedule the conference to end on a Thursday or Friday, then they are more inclined to make a long weekend or vacation out of it, staying for the entirety of your conference and then enjoying the locale afterwards as well," said Grech. "If you opt for this tactic, try opening up parts of the conference such as breakfast or the finale dinner to family members and partners of the attendee. Not only is it a unique way to network and really get to know each other when significant others are around, but it'll also add to the enjoyment of attending the conference."