How To Make In-Person Events Worth The Time
An in-person event works when people feel included and a part of the overall cause.
Anyone putting on an in-person event today is in a delicate place.
Everyone is feeling the pinch and we have the aftermath of the past two years. This is what I am seeing from others who are putting on events and perhaps not seeing the results they want:
— If people don’t need to go out, they don’t have to, we realised from 2020 we got time back
— Slow commitment from others to confirm their attendance
— People are making serious decisions about what they commit to. I saw this first hand with the Schaef By The Seaside events and by having two separate events, but a special offer to attend both (over two days), people were making the decision on what to attend (100 people for lecture event, 40 people for lunch)
It’s a very real dilemma to figure out. Personally, I don’t want to spend my life online attending events. Online connection is a gloomy substitute for the real kind.
We ran a poll at the start of 2022 and asked people ‘what can stop you from attending an event in 2022?’ The biggest decision for people was time. Making that decision has to feel right. People are weighing up far more today before they step forwards.
This article is here to help you if you are thinking of introducing an event. It could be a small gathering, it could be a workshop, it could be the first step for a conference-themed event.
What I’m sharing is from experience before 2020 and after 2020. I’ve failed with hybrid events, won with online events and becoming enthused for in person events in 2023. We trialed recently for our YATM Bristol Lunch Club event (in November).
Why People Are Not Showing Up
It hurts when people decide to stay away, but there are reasons. Some are completely out of your control (someone paying so much more for their mortgage or energy bill), but some can be managed.
Let me highlight why events just don’t work for the people/companies who put so much work into them.
The topic is too broad.
When we make decisions where ‘time’ is a factor, it has to be relevant to what we want and where we want to go. For instance, if the topic is ‘business’ it becomes everything to everyone and means nothing. Plus if the delivery takes on board a collection of presenters and a variety of topics, it loses meaning.
This is what you see in many instances where the delivery is exactly what you have seen for years. This could be networking themed, it could be conference themed. There is always pressure to take the safe route and do it how everyone else does it.
People can’t pick up the thread to familiarise.
This is when an event sits in isolation and is not part of a wider effort. What happens is that everything becomes connected to a person, not the cause. The breadcrumbs that help people pick up, just aren’t easy to see. Just because you post on social, your post eventually becomes lost.
The money commitment is more than the expectation.
Small businesses have had their day paying over £200 (plus travel) for a conference themed events where people are talking at you for a day. Whilst the premium is the potential connections made, if it’s just presentations and no means to further learning, working, or encouragement it’s just a day dictated to you. We all become the transaction.
It’s either relentless posts in one place or not enough marketing.
If you spend your life selling on LinkedIn and there isn’t much else happening, people start to switch off. This is different from building your own independent audience (your network) and reaching out to the right people and not everyone. If all you want is for everyone to come, it means less interested and less important people.
How You Can Reframe And Make It Work
The most important thing to remember is that you take on the role of connecting people, not processing everyone as a transaction or an Eventbrite sign-up. This is where the loyalty and fun happen. It needs a build-up, but we won’t delve into that here (this is more planning than marketing)
Some ideas to make it work where people commit to you, pay and turn up.
Keep people informed, way before the ‘book now.’
If you can build trust and familiarity, it becomes easier when you approach people with an ask. What has helped me over the years has been the weekly YATM newsletter. It’s my way to keep in contact and let them know I am here, sharing insight. If you can be a part of someone’s week, you are in a better place for them to say ‘I’m going.’ It’s a way of giving first x 100, before you ask.
Engage with others before you need them.
When you show up, enthused with your ask, if you have been cultivating connections over the previous months, it helps so much. If there is that right fit and you know what you have lined up is suited, then it feels comfortable to suggest. When people step up with no prior audience-building approach, this is where the problems happen. Build a following of people, not just followers.
If you have an event that is covering specific topics, show your hand before the event. I have found that writing about a topic has helped me shape how I think about the subject matter and becomes a part of the event. This is then used to promote where you are leading on the insight and views and not the event itself. This helps with your content armoury.
Find people to back you up.
Even if you pay for ads, you need as much help as you can. Your allies are out there. Find the people who are prepared to do the marketing for you. This could be someone sharing to their network through to a video testimonial that the work you (and your business) does has always been at a reputable level. We sometimes forget the power of people around us.
Reach out directly.
If people are familiar with you and they subscribe, let them know their attendance would mean a lot. I have used LinkedIn voice messages through to video messages (via Bonjoro). When they can see you are addressing them and it’s you having that one-to-one (and not part of an email send) it makes the whole approach feel personal.
Make everything feel simple.
Keeping people informed of the format, schedule and what you anticipate people to take away can help them progress with new ideas, connection, inspiration, and momentum. This has to be clear from the outset and make it clear what they are going to walk into and what they will leave with. Helping people make that association with the subject matter, their needs and their involvement, supports the decision.
Be brave in looking to take what has already been delivered by others but put your own stamp on it. It could be changing formats during the day, or it could be welcoming more Q&A than just presentations. The YATM Creator Day was born out of realising the importance of bringing people together and getting them to work and be accountable to each other. Look outside of your industry for inspiration.
It’s about the quality, not the quantity, all the time.
We can reach for quantity by living our lives online and inviting the world to us. What is even more scarce today is getting the right people to come to the right place, at the right time, for the right reason. This is why your event can deliver. It pays to have good relationships.
Let me sum up what is heightened today to encourage a decision for someone to commit to your event. A lot comes down to the work you have to do. Let me surmise:
Build your own audience
Build value-driven relationships
Bring the value to people before your ask
Creating an event that is attractive enough for people to say ‘yes’ starts by knowing how your topic area is going to help someone else. Today, we have to be specific. To do that, you need to build a following of people who understand you, your business and your message. The high-quality subscribed network becomes your base to get to know, support and deliver special occasions for them.
Sometimes we have to go back to the drawing board, and that’s ok. It was always meant to be like that. The clues and routes to follow are being put in front of you, all the time. This means that what you produce in the future is considered, tested, relevant, and has a place for others.
The people who are with you, choose to be with you, that is a huge privilege. This means that you can make the magic happen.