The American Heart Association tells us that a healthy resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Michael Phelps is closer to a resting heart rate of 40. This is one measure of how healthy we are – not the only measure – but if I had only one thing that told me how well I’m doing, heart rate would be it. It’s easy to measure and track: No special equipment; I don’t need to go to a doctor to get it; and I don’t need a “wearable” to tell me if my heart is working as well as I want it to.
The one measure of your event’s health is attendance. Are more people coming every year, or fewer? More importantly, are more of the right people coming? If I were CEO of the Peanut Butter Association, I’d want not only to make sure everyone from the Peanut Butter ecosystem was there, but also to know if Banana, Nutella and Jelly were going to be there too – a surefire way to measure the most important audiences for my organization to ensure my attendance was growing with the right constituents.
MPI (Meeting Professionals International) just released the results of a survey that reveal a 12-percent drop in positive growth for upcoming live event attendance. Further, 16 percent of respondents projected negative attendance, and 34 percent projected flat attendance.
These MPI survey respondents are the people who are closest to the ground and the most reliable in projecting the future of their events. This isn’t just a bad sign for events overall; it should be a reminder for you to look at the attendance trends for your most important audience cohorts, those that are most important to your organization.
Warning: You may not like the next two statements. If you are easily offended, please skip the next paragraph.
It’s not the economy, it’s not the weather, it’s not a bad location, it’s not industry consolidation, it’s not the exchange rate of the dollar compared to the euro or yen, it’s not virtual events and it’s not some other geopolitical force or external factor that is causing a decline in the attendance of your core audience. It’s your event.
Yes, the marketing could always be better, and the keynote speakers do have an influence. Yes, there are forces that conspire to suppress attendance, but please remember, great events are indispensable and irresistible. If your attendance is waning, flat or declining, step one is to look inside and examine the purpose of your event, its positioning in the marketplace and the people who are attending (and, more importantly, not attending). Therein lies the answer and the path back to an increase in attendance.
It’s not easy – nothing worthwhile is. But it’s true, it works, and you will be in a better place three years from now (which is often what it takes to reverse a trend that started long before it was observable).
Just like getting your resting heart rate down into the zone that you want, getting your attendance back up requires an honest look at the root cause of the decline and a clear vision for the future.
Here’s to a healthy body and a healthy event.