We recently had a question from one of our clients about  conferences. A director of a national organization asked “Why do some conferences attract the same large crowd year after year when similar conferences struggle to attract attendance?”
We have been managing conferences for our clients for years and we have had a chance to observe what works and what doesn’t.
All good conferences offer an opportunity to learn, to network  and to socialize. Often a conference with a great agenda doesn’t attract a  crowd. But some conferences sell out every year, even during a recession. I was talking to one of our clients yesterday and she has attended the same conference for 5 years running. Even during the recession years in 2008-2009 the conference has always sold out. Why is that?
A successful conference provides elements of value that cannot be found anywhere else. When this is true, the conference becomes a “must-have” instead of a “nice-to-have”. There are 5 key reasons why attendees keep coming back to a conference every year. These are by no means all of the reasons why people attend a conference but they are the differentiators between a good conference and a sell-out.
These are listed in order of priority:
1.       Accreditation. If the conference provides a good chunk of thecontinuing education credits required to maintain a professional certification, there is a huge incentive to attend. People often leave CEU requirements to the last minute and the conference is a fast, easy way to pick them up.  TIP:  If your organization does not have a certification program, find one that many of your attendees have, and apply to them for CE credits for your conference.
2.       Peer/Supplier Congregation. If the conference is the only event that attracts all of the major industry players it is a huge draw because this is the only opportunity that attendees have to see everyone they need to connect with, in the same place, at the same time. This allows them to justify the cost of the conference because it’s a fast, easy way to preserve relationships, make new connections, create alliances and negotiate deals. TIP: If you are not attracting the key players right now, make it a goal. Contact them directly and make it worth their while to be there. A pre-conference roundtable for heavy-hitters can be a huge incentive to get them to the conference.
3.       Scarcity of Seats. If the conference sells out every year, people know they must make a commitment early. They are more likely to attend an event that they know will sell out. TIP: Ensure that early-bird financial incentives offer a significant discount. Offer pre-conference booking at high demand, limited seating workshops and advertise immediately when they sell out.
4.       Location. If the conference is in a major urban centre it will attract more registrants for two reasons:

  • There is a larger pool of local registrants who do not have to incur travel costs
  • Out-of-town residents usually have other business they can conduct in the city and this helps to justify the cost of the travel.

5.       Ease of Purchase. If attendees know it is going to take them hours to arrange the details they will put off the buying decision. If they know it is going to take them minutes to arrange the details they are more likely to buy immediately. TIP: Invest in a top-notch online registration system that is designed for events like yours. It will save you time and money.