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How to encourage delegates to stay until the end of your event

Posted on 14 September, 2021

There’s no getting around it: watching your audience decrease as your event progresses is pretty disheartening. You’ve spent days on the planning process, organising your catering, co-ordinating speakers, scouting out venues – only to watch delegates slip away hour by hour. Post-tea break, and the first escapees have made a dash for it; as rush hour approaches, you lose some more. Parents leave for school pick-ups, others check their watches before getting out of their seats. By the time your panellists ask for any final questions, the room is half as full as it was at the beginning of the event. Ouch.

Of course, sometimes, life truly does get in the way, and leaving early is inevitable. However, all too often, a decreasing delegate count is due to factors within your control. The good news? This means you can implement a few changes to boost attendee retention rates.

At Congress Centre, we’ve hosted hundreds of corporate functions, from large-scale conferences to smaller, shorter meetings; we’ve seen what works (and crucially, what doesn’t!). So, here’s our top tips to encourage delegates to stay to the end of your event.

Content placement 

We’ve all heard the saying “save the best until last”, but, when it comes to audience retention, this isn’t quite so simple. Sure, there’s a chance that saving the most interesting content until the last hour might keep some delegates around who were previously on the fence. However, in doing so, you also risk dropping engagement levels earlier on in your event; you might end up losing audience members before this final flourish. Attendees are unlikely to want to sit through hours of dry, dense, or one-way content, even with the promise of more exciting things to come.

Instead, it can be helpful to insert pockets of engaging, interactive content to keep delegates “switched on” throughout. That’s not to say you should abandon the prospect of an enticing ending feature entirely – for example, you could save one must-see key speaker until the very end, to persuade delegates to stick around.

There’s a careful balance to be struck, but it’s worth spending a little time over. Savvy content placement can really make a difference!

A note on networking…

On the topic of scheduling, it can be useful to think about when you want to offer networking opportunities. Typically, mingling takes place at the end of an event, but by this point, it’s not uncommon for attendees to be tired and ready for home; some will sacrifice networking in favour of getting back to unwind.

Why not shake up convention and schedule a time to make those all-important professional connections earlier in the day? That way, you’re offering delegates the chance to build relationships and find value in the event, which, in turn, could make them more willing to stay until its end.

A selection of speakers and rostrum at Congress 2019 Brighton

Get competitive

There’s nothing like a competition to incentivise delegates to stay for your event’s duration. You could send emails ahead of the day itself to establish the rules (and make it clear that winners will be announced and prizes given at the end). Some of our favourite examples include: collecting badges, implementing point systems, or even gamifying elements of your event – there are lots of platforms out there to facilitate this, such as Glisser.

Make sure attendees are clear that the collection of winnings has to be made in-person, and don’t forget to provide frequent updates! By doing so, you’ll encourage ongoing engagement and keep all eyes on the prize (literally). 

Exit giveaway 

In a similar vein, rewarding delegates who stay for the entirety of your event can also help prevent an early exodus. Offering downloadable content through a QR code at the exit gate can act as another source of incentivisation (and, if this content requires payment to access remotely, you’ll also be discouraging early departures). There’s scope to get creative, here: useful data and key reports that provide insight into the industry; a list of contacts from the networking session (LinkedIn details included); a recording of the conference – even a podcast, perhaps featuring the key speaker or an unseen conversation between two experts. Again, it’s all about adding value to your event, before, during, and after.

Consider an early finish

Time is precious, so there’s little point padding your event with filler or “empty” content; people will soon lose interest and begin clockwatching. Likewise, poor timekeeping can mean the function overruns, and you can’t expect delegates to stay around beyond the stipulated end. Try to stick to a tight schedule with a concise and compact conference (or else break up the day with a timely lunch) – it’s far better to finish early with happy delegates than dragging an event out and losing numbers.

Location, location, location

Chances are, the end-of-day commute will be on your delegates’ minds, and people may well leave early if staying means a gruelling, grid-locked journey home.

Your venue choice is crucial, here. Picking a location with excellent transport links can really help keep audience retention rates high. We know this from experience – Congress Centre is right in the heart of London’s West End, just three minutes’ walk from Tottenham Court Road underground and a short walk from Charing Cross station – and can confirm that accessibility is key! Long journeys aside, if members know that rush hour traffic or a long journey will force them to miss parts of the event, they might even forgo attending in the first place.

Quality versus quantity 

Sounds obvious, but ensuring you’re offering good value in exchange for your delegates’ full attendance is vital! If you’re struggling with poor audience acquisition, it might be worth revisiting the type of content included in your event. Prioritise constructing an exciting programme with an emphasis on quality: great speakers, networking “match-making”, implementable advice, a live Q&A session – there’s plenty of ways to go about doing this. The more appealing your event, the more likely delegates are to stay for its duration.

Ask for feedback

All that said, it’s almost impossible to guarantee full audience attendance from start to finish. People live busy lives, and sometimes even the most engaging events can’t stop a few delegates from leaving early.

With this in mind, it’s a really good idea to collect feedback from those who don’t stay to the end of your event. This is your chance to get an idea of why they chose to leave – don’t let it pass you by! Ensure you know how to design an effective feedback form (with the right sort of questions). It’s only through understanding the reason behind an early leaver’s decision – perhaps the event was too long, or the content didn’t feel relevant – that you can make the necessary improvements for future events.

Events at Congress Centre

If you’re looking for a centrally-located London venue (with an affordable price tag!), we’d love to hear from you. Congress Centre boasts fantastic transport links, whether your delegates are coming by tube or by rail. With 16 flexible spaces to choose from – our largest, Congress Hall, can accommodate 850 guests standing, whilst our intimate meeting rooms are ideal for smaller groups – you’ll be able to tailor the room to the occasion, no matter the scale of your event. To find out more and arrange a site viewing, get in touch here, or give us a call on 020 7467 1318.