No one is going to save you or your event.
Whilst creating, curating and taking the lead with events is the perfect opportunity to cement relationships and build a sense of realism (people get to see you and if you can walk the walk), it is also probably the hardest medium to make a success. You are doing the doing, people are watching, in real time.
Getting people to come to your event is hard. This is the most transparent thing you will ever make that leap into. You can tell everyone that you have huge monthly subscriber rates, massive website views each week and an abundance of email enquiries, but who is to know? When you make something physical and for people to see you stripped down, you can either look like Popeye or Homer Simpson.
The monthly You Are The Media Lunch Club and the May, You Are The Media Conference are two projects where people come out from behind the screen and spend some time together. I love every minute of it, but to get to a point where people come, there has to be a start why people don’t come.
Rather celebrate when things flourish, lets look at why people won’t come to your event.
These are the moments when you are looking over the precipice and about to make that call to cancel an event and go back go the drawing board. However, what you have created could be the most insightful time someone spends with you, but the reason people won’t attend has nothing to do with the depth of knowledge of the subject matter, it is a lot more personal than that. Lets just say that it’s not them, it’s you.
Setting The Scene
Just because you have the technology, doesn’t mean that you are going to see the return (sign ups, purchases and attendees). Just because you can do an event, doesn’t mean that you should.
Whilst it is straightforward to set up an Eventbrite page for a seminar at a local hotel or put a date in the diary for the afternoon webinar. It doesn’t mean people will show up.
Before I committed to this side project that is You Are The Media, I was scratching around with ideas to bring people together. Not many people came, let alone identify ways to monetise.
These were one offs that had the hope of people to come to spend a few hours in a seminar format or in a much looser description, a talk. Whilst the promotion around it looked pristine, in terms of printed flyers, some social advertising and looking to build word of mouth around clients and their network, nothing much materialised.
It is only by seeing what didn’t work, to what seems to be building momentum in the offline space, that I can offer some form of insight into why people won’t come to your event.
We live in a world of expected gratification and acceptance, where likes and followers, represent some added element of personal reward. Popularity from strangers in an online place, is easier to cling to, rather than looking to make things live and direct in a physical space.
Deep breath, lets share these with you. It’s just not just what I have taken, but asking others too.
Why People Won’t Come To Your Event
It’s All About You, Not Them.
When I started my business in 2007/2008, I became a sponge for free events.
Anything from the ’7 simple tricks you are missing to gain new customers’ to ‘how to master your website as a relentless lead generator.’ It was my way of being in touch with what was happening and didn’t cost me anything. However, the more I participated, the more I could see these types of events cropping up.
The thing was, whilst the attention grabbing headlines of the seminars were there to pull me in, it was never about providing value, but a way to fast-track me to buy from a stranger.
If you create something where the intention is to sell a product or service quicker than you can say ‘free 30 minute website audit’ then you are never going to win. There has to be a way of providing genuine value, that is not just manipulating others. Gordon Fong, owner of internet companies e-mango and Datacenta Hosting said, “There will be those events that are going to be stiff as a board, corporate marketing non-speak all over it, to those that are more a beauty pageant for the organiser than the content.”
“If I am going to invest time away from the office and my team, I need to feel that it’s going to be worth it but also made to feel comfortable. The comfort factor come from scratching the surface and seeing how the speakers and organisers have acted before and what people have said about them.”
This sentiment of taking value, was echoed by Andy Headington, CEO of digital agency Adido, “Having run events for the best part of six years, I think there a few main reasons why people don’t come to events. The first is that I think a lot of people have become cynical about going to events to be sold to.”
“Our time is precious yet it is often abused by sales or marketing people going over the top when on the stage and pushing their agenda rather than educating or entertaining their audience which turns people off. On top of this, we all live very busy lives and often have children or other commitments that means getting timing right is crucial for success.”
You Go Too Big On Time For A Limited Return.
If you are looking to take up any portion of someone else’s day, it better be worthy.
A full day event makes sense if the subject matter is deep and wide, rather becomes energy sapping when it’s ‘how to set up a Twitter account and who you should be following.’
Hayley O’Shea, Marketing Manager from Talbot Heath School commented, “Time is a massive factor of not wanting to go to some events. Much as I love a good mingle there are always deadlines and things I should be cracking on with. The feeling I’m not being physically productive when I’m not sat at my Mac can be very conscious thing! If a drain on time alongside the same circuit of people trying to sell their services, can be awful.”
There Is No Proof.
If you are putting yourself out there to be observed, you need to hold someone’s attention. Allowing access to what you believe in, lets others determine if it is right for them. From the videos, to blog articles, to the podcast presence, the more someone can be familiar before they commit, the easier it is to make a decision. If you treat an event as the equivalent of one advert in the local business magazine, all people are going to do is turn over and forget about the strapline you spent three days on.
Three years ago I was asked if I would like to participate in a seminar, alongside two other speakers. The event was cancelled. Everything just sat on Eventbrite, there were no references or articles on the company website, no social presence about what to expect, no means of addressing a subscribed audience on what they would get out of the half day event. It was an idea, that had agreement, that was cancelled. It was the equivalent of buying a Panini sticker album and thinking that when you opened it up, all the stickers would be in place. To stand any chance of people wanting to come to something that is yours, at least have a presence first and even better, an audience first.
There has to be consideration to a build up where you create a body of work. Even if it means revealing the elements of your seminar through LinkedIn, sometimes you don’t always need the grand reveal for people to take notice of you, the small things have merit too. I explain more about this concept if you have a read of How To Champion The Small Things That Make The Big Thing.
It Sounds Complicated.
Whilst it may look lavish that you can use long winded superlatives to describe an event that you puts you in a self granted elevated status, to everyone else, it just becomes something that they will never connect with.
Chris Miles, Senior Lecturer in Marketing and Communications from Bournemouth University in an article Marketers Mess Up Everything They Touch highlighted that we like to make things more high brow than they actually are, “One of the ways that we make ideas seem revolutionary or unique is by making them more complicated than their originals – a complicated tool or strategy appears impressive, we think there must have been a lot of thought put into that! Wrap everything up in some nice impactful metaphors and Bob’s your shiny new marketing tool!” No-one ever wanted to commit to something they just couldn’t make sense of.
The Audience Can’t Put Themselves In The Picture.
If you are looking to get someone to commit, at least make it clear, so they can recognise what they are walking into.
If it is a networking breakfast where there is a group of people living the dream handing out business cards, then it is easier to see that the value received is what people can take in the shortest amount of time. However, it is easier to understand when there is more of a focus on the ‘delicious cooked or continental breakfast’ than the subject matter related to your business.
If you are looking to put on a more considered event on a particular topic, at least make it easy for people to understand what they will take from it and how it will benefit them. Even if this means breaking down topic areas into a series of blog articles, at least make what you do, easy to understand. If someone’s investment is to make them a better communicator, salesperson, parent, speaker, then tell them.
Every aspect of what you create has to be relevant to the commitment of someone else. Matt Lawrence, head of marketing for hospitality company Urban Guild highlighted, “These days you need the courage of a lion to announce you’re off to an event (a.k.a ‘jolly’, ‘day off’, ‘piss up’). I find that’s usually enough to put anyone off attending a trade show, conference, networking event or seminar. Then you have to beg. Shamefully going cap in hand to the boss to ask if the company can PAY for you to go on this jolly, as surely you should be funding it yourself if it’s benefitting your career?”
“With permission slip in hand, but still getting evil looks from the accounts department you head online to book, only to be faced with the question everyone dreads, namely, ‘what is your level of buying power?’ (or words to that effect). Has anyone ever answered that other than, ‘one step down from tea maker’? You know that if you declare you hold the purse strings you are getting eaten alive by the first sales executive that spots the green sticker on your name badge. Everything has to be relevant and value driven.”
The Marketplace Is Crowded.
If you are competing in a crowded space, an event has to look, sound, taste different. If you think you can rock up and create a lunchtime networking event, someone else has been doing it longer and probably better.
What I intended to do with the You Are The Media Lunch Club was to put the learning/value first and the networking second. Whilst there are people who consider it a networking event, this was never the plan. However, if people managed to connect with others, that led to business, then that makes me happy.
The focus is always about the topic of discussion, area to think about, person or company who has built their own space and audience. When you break the mould and you are ‘the only’ event within that space, nobody else can touch you. This is something that Matt Desmier, organiser of the annual Silicon Beach Conference and the Silicon Beached conference on April 18th and one of the team behind the regular Open Sauce evening events knows too well.
I asked Matt why they decided to create an evening event. Matt said, “The catalyst for Open Sauce came from the three people having spent years attending — and quite honestly organising — carbon copy events with the same people doing the same dance around the same small talk. We were bored. We wanted to attend something different and we figured others would too. We also wanted to create a space that would introduce the interesting and inspiring people we knew in a fun and engaging way. So the idea is that folk will come to Open Sauce. They will see and hear something different, they might learn something, they might meet someone new but they’ll almost certainly be entertained.”
You Treat Everyone As A Transaction, Not Genuine Connection.
The biggest lesson I have learnt from creating events is that my biggest allies are not necessarily customers. I went into events thinking that this can become a sure fire lead magnet, where everything I touch/address, turns into sold. I was wrong.
The deepest connections I have made are people who are not necessarily clients, but people I know who feel part of something and enjoy being part of the whole journey. There is no hidden agenda and there is a sense of feeling and solidarity to make the whole experience work. This maybe sharing their own perspectives (you can have a read of that here), to promoting within their own channels.
The biggest mistake you can make is to come in as a complete stranger, where you have a hidden past, or rather no Twitter post since October 2014, and treat the world as though it owes you. If you come into something cold, where there is no association or presence you will hold anyones attention. You can’t treat the world as leads.
Chris Huskins founder of the podcast resource company, Abrupt Audio, picked up on the fact that you can’t take people for granted. Chris commented, “For me a real turn off for events is auto-invitation, be it that I am automatically added to your event page updates or I get an automatic email or LinkedIn message inviting me to an event immediately after connecting with someone.”
“We all acknowledge that events are hard to put on, and that they have to convert to something for our businesses, otherwise we wouldn’t put them on. However having 10 minutes of content and 20 minutes of sell isn’t beneficial to anyone.”
Lets Round Up
People won’t come to your event when the value you provide is not something, someone else can associate with. Nobody wants to make that step into the unknown with a person/company that they have no familiarity with (even if it means an email from you when someone signs up, it’s the small things right!). Rather than always chasing attention, once someone has stepped forward, it is then the responsibility to hold attention.
If you want people to commit, you have to be committed in the first place. No-one ever wanted to come to an event, if there was nothing to watch/hear/read apart from a pleading email invite where your email was scrapped from a LinkedIn import.
If you are looking to make that step where you take the connection offline, there has to be proof for people to make their own judgement and is right for them. More importantly if you are looking to get people to come to your event, how is what you are doing a total contrast to what is already out there?
Lets lot leave the end to this article full of unanswered questions. I am no where near the finished article or an impresario when it comes to events, but the reward when someone says ‘I’m in’ is on a different level from any retweet, subscriber or download you will ever receive.