How to make an empty conference room look full

There is a common problem for many conference organisers: the “disappearing delegate” I covered the more traditional ways an event planner can look at to reduce the number of attendees who disappear towards the end of the day in a previous post.

However, in this post I wanted to look at the practical aspect (no one ever seems to covers this) of dealing with the disappearing delegate. If conference delegates don’t stay until the end of the conference then you have one question to ask: How to make an empty conference room look full!

If you know there will be a drop off, there are things you can do to make sure that it is not too noticeable

In many cases a reduction in attendees towards the end of the day is unavoidable. So a good event planner should make sure that it is not too noticeable. And here’s a few simple way to do that:

1. Remove some chairs, or even some rows of chairs from the main room. I often find that if people are going to “sneak” out they will do that after the last refreshment break. So while that is happening I would have a few staff (venue staff preferably) rearranging the chairs slightly in the main room. It should be easy to lose 20% of the chairs without anyone really noticing.

2. Reduce the number of breakout sessions. If you know you are going to have a significant drop out then don’t have many breakout sessions in the late afternoon. It is much better to have the attendees in one room than spread very thinly across a few rooms.

3. Don’t have uncollected bags or badges lying around. Simple eh? However, I have seen the opposite  so often at events. It looks terrible, it is BAD social proofing! Attendees think there must be something wrong with the event if so many people haven’t turned up. Get rid of those badges straight away. If someone does arrive late, it is better for them to ask for their badge than to collect it from a pile of other badges.

4. If you know you will have lower numbers make sure your speakers and stakeholders know what to expect. You can avoid an awkward situation if you meet it head on. There will be speakers who genuinely don’t mind speaking to a smaller audience and of course there will be speakers who do mind, so make sure you scope them out before placing their sessions. The same goes with exhibitors and sponsors, get them to focus on the busy periods by highlighting how busy it is earlier in the day. A simple quick conversation during the first refreshment break can really set their mind at ease.

5. Speak to your venue. If you know you will lose attendees before the last refreshment break, why don’t ask them the venue to reduce the number of servings of tea and coffees. You don’t want loads of un used mugs stacked awkwardly. You could also ask them to add a nice little treat for those delegates who have stayed (as they have saved on the reduced T&Cs). Attendees and stakeholders may be too focussed on the chocolate buns to even notice the dwindling numbers.

6. Take all your event pictures at the start of the day. You can’t avoid your attendees taking pics of an emptying room, but the official photographer can have pictures with attendees bursting at the seams.

There isn’t a magic bullet, but I hope that some practical ideas will mean that falling numbers don’t matter so much.