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Getting to Yes: The Data-Driven Way to Maximize Attendance

A new industry collaboration offers a free, downloadable, research-based toolkit planners can use to help drive more people to attend their events.

If you’re looking to up your attendance numbers, you now have a free toolkit that can help. The Experience Institute, working with the Professional Convention Management Association, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, Meeting Professionals International, the American Society of Association Executives, and Destinations International, has released the “Maximizing Attendance” initiative, an in-depth dive into the factors that drive people to attend meetings—and what turns them off. The toolkit, which includes a best practices checklist and a behavior profile template you can use to identify behaviors and target messaging, can be downloaded for free. Destinations International plans to follow up with a related Attendance Promotion Handbook that destination marketing organizations can use to better market the experience their destinations provide.

The toolkit is based on the recently released second Decision to Attend Study, which is included in the toolkit. The study, which builds on the initial Decision to Attend study in 2014, garnered responses from nearly 9,000 current and potential meeting attendees from 12 different organizations representing a wide variety of professions and industries to determine generational differences, attendance frequency, barriers to attend, and intentions to attend future meetings.

The industry-wide study provides data backing up the long-held belief that people come to meetings for three main reasons:

 • Education. Ninety-two percent of respondents to the Decision to Attend study said education is a key driver to attend, whether they’re learning on the show floor or in formal sessions, and 67 percent said keeping up with the latest in their profession is very important. Even 70 percent of those who said they didn’t attend meetings said education is very important. Interestingly, when you just look at respondents who always attend conferences, only 55 said education is a very important reason they attend. A larger percentage—62 percent—say networking is very important.

• Destination. More than three-quarters said the destination is a factor when considering whether to attend a conference, with up to 30 percent saying it was a deciding factor. Along with destination appeal, respondents report that airlift, drivable distance, overall cost, and their desire to experience someplace new were among their destination-based considerations.

• Networking. Seventy-six percent said being able to make connections is important to their decision to attend, with Millennials even more likely than other generations to call networking very important. And they like their networking face to face: While 42 percent of the total survey respondents want to hop on social media to communicate on site, 74 percent want to connect face to face. 

The study also found that almost 90 percent would attend more often if barriers—such as overall costs, scheduling issues, destination appeal, and management approval—were removed.

“This study continues to prove that today’s attendees are seasoned, discerning consumers,” said Mickey Schaefer, FASAE, CAE, CTA, founder and CEO of The Experience Institute. “Yet, the true group profile of what attendees do ‘outside the walls’ of the event remains elusive. The vision is to maximize attendance by identifying the nuances of each group in order to match attendees to their preferred environment—an environment where they will thrive, talk about it, and decide to return.” 

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