Event Management

10 Unmistakable Signs Your Event is About to Fail

Skift Take

Do you know the early warning signs that your event is destined to fail? Here are a few to look out for.

If you’ve ever played Jenga, the popular wooden blocks game, you know that nail-biting moment when you watch the wooden tower sway. It heads one way, and then the other and you know it’s only a matter of time before it topples. Your turn comes up and you gently slide out a brick. Then the next person does the same. And with each brick, you wonder when is this beautiful tower going to topple? You swear it will happen with each one.

Events can be the same way. If you watch carefully, you can see them growing more and more unsteady, wobbling, faltering. The sooner you can recognize the signs that things are about to go from bad to worse, the better. If you recognize it early enough you can correct it.

Sometimes it’s not as obvious as you think to know if your event is failing though, so watch for these early indicators.

No One Is Talking About Your Event

As the old saying goes: hate is not the opposite of love, indifference is. Indifference is a total lack of emotion. With indifference, your audience doesn’t care enough about the event to give it any of their time. Whether people love or hate your event, they should be talking about it. If they aren’t, you have a problem.

Retention is Dropping

If you host an annual event or series, are people returning each year or are you recruiting a brand new group of attendees each time? If you track numbers only, you may feel good that attendee numbers are increasing with each event but if you’re seeing new faces and very few returns, that indicates a problem. Sure, maybe you have mad marketing skills but eventually, you’ll run out of new attendees to recruit, and you’ll see your numbers drop.

You’re Not Asking for the Right Feedback

Exit surveys for events can be largely ineffective because of the questions they ask. “How would you rate this presentation?” is an incomplete question. Someone who sat through a morning of terrible sessions might rate the current one very highly. You might get that response and think the speaker is extraordinary and ask her back. In reality, she was just better than the rest of the blah that morning.

A more effective question would be, “Could this topic have been covered better” or “What is the likelihood you would you refer someone to this session?” Also take the time to analyze the results against past results with similar topics. Does this area always seem to rank higher than others? This could be because so few people understand it that they give it high ranking.

Your Marketing Is Not Specific Enough

Every event has an ideal attendee. You should not be trying to recruit everyone. If you’re not talking to that ideal attendee, your event will fail. Don’t be afraid to exclude certain groups. It can help you provide stronger sessions. For instance, if you’re hosting a marketing conference are you helping small business or Fortune 500 companies? Their marketing departments look very different. If you want to target both, you better have separate learning tracks because they definitely don’t have the same needs.

The Ideal Attendee Is Undefined

See above. If you don’t know who you’re trying to target, figure it out before you do another thing. Seriously.

Your Event Looks the Same

If you are continually hosting the same event year to year, it will grow old. Strip away the host city and the venue. Even take away the theme. These are all extras and don’t factor in to making your event unique. At the foundation of the event, is it always the same? Can return attendees help you run it because it follows the same schedule every year? Are only the broadest of details changing? Very few things remain unchanged over time. Your event shouldn’t be one of them.

You Worry Too Much About Technology

Technology should assist you as an event planner not be an albatross around your neck. Don’t put off embracing technology because you’re worried about what might happen if it fails. Don’t hang on to an ineffective piece of technology because you spent a long time auditioning it. And finally, don’t assume there’s no technology that can help solve your problem. Tech is just another tool. Make sure you have the best you can afford.

There’s a Calendar Disconnect with Attendees

If your event is recurring, you need to keep things buzzing year round. Popular ways of doing this are on social media, through newsletters, email campaigns, and online communities. A year goes quickly but not so quickly that you can count on remaining in an attendee’s calendar. Stay connected and it’s one less thing to worry about.

You Are Hitting the Same Obstacles

Albert Einstein is credited as saying the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. If you find yourself facing the same challenges over and over, the problem might not be the problem. The problem may be in addressing the original situation. Don’t place a bandage where you need stitches. Face the obstacle and challenge and make it go away.

Vendors or Sponsors Aren’t Signing Up

Wineries often plant rose bushes at the beginning of rows of grapes. Coal miners used to carry canaries into the mines. Both of these are early indicators of problems. Your vendors or sponsors not renewing is also a big one. Wherever possible, it’s important to speak to veteran vendors or sponsors who don’t sign on for another year. This sudden change could indicate a problem with the quality of business they’re receiving from your event. It’s also (possibly) an early indicator in a change of your attendee demographic.

In Conclusion

Don’t be the last to know if there are issues plaguing your event. Watch for the early warning signs while there’s still time enough to do something to address them and take action.

What other early warning signals should we be looking out for?