Attendee Growth Hack Part One: Methodical Approach

Attendee Growth Hack Part One: Methodical Approach

Create a methodical data-driven plan that creates huge value and gains for not only you, but your entire audience

By Bill McGlade, CEM, Sr. Director, Emerging Business at a2z, Inc.

One cannot help but conjure the voice of Ben Stein when reading a title that discusses methodical approach. My hope is, with a bit of storytelling, I can help guide you along this journey to grow your attendance. In this series of three (3) posts you will learn the Methodical Approach, Marketing & Sales Multi-Prong Approach, and Referrals & VIP Programs Approach on how to grow your event attendance.

Keep in mind, with a little knowledge of Excel, you can exponentially create a methodical data-driven plan that creates huge value and gains for not only you, but your entire audience.

There once was an event that was stuck in ‘00s (some might even say the ‘90s). This event did their status quo each year, gathering their returns and collecting their survey responses with no end in sight. Then, out of nowhere, there was a storm, and a thought provoked change within the organization. Let’s not do status quo this year, let’s add value through experience for our audience. Why? Why surely because experience is a mainstream-hyped word being thrown around everywhere for events. It only makes obvious sense that the organization that has done the same over and over again for decades could easily make this change. Little did they know, at the time, they had silently educated a generation of their audience that was used to their ordinary event. Now, this organization which had embarked on a journey that added experience activations to their event, saw survey satisfactions rise but sadly their attendance growth was flat.

What went wrong? Why did their event growth stay flat after a few years of adding experience flavors to their event? Alas, they continued the path only to see little to no growth…. The End.

This sounds all too familiar in our fantastic industry that thrives on providing the best, most unique immersive experiences for our audiences. There are various reasonings behind the flat growth and yet one simple solution has been around for decades or as long as “data” has been in existence. It’s time to go back to basics, to the fundamentals that made the event strong in the first place and view, through data, the changing tides over the years that occurred to keep the event flat.

Here is the simple yet methodical approach to utilizing your data for event growth.

Step 1. Collect the Correct Data

Often, show organizers are fearful of “big data” yet data really isn’t big or at least it’s not meant to be. That fear is what keeps them from making the first step of ensuring you are collecting the correct data.

Here are a few items you need to collect for attendee growth. The good news is you most likely are already collecting this information:

  • Organization Name
  • Title of Individual
  • State and Country of Organization
  • Vertical or Categories the Organization Represents
  • Are they an Influencer or Decision-maker?
  • Event Year Attended

That’s it. Those are the few simple items you need to ensure you are collecting from your attendees to start your methodical approach.

Step 2. Organize Your Data

Pulling reports is easy. Staring at the raw data glaring back at you, not so much. With a few sorting changes and pivot tables in Excel you can begin the next step to organizing your data. It only takes a few clicks and you have embarked upon a journey that will lead you to the future of your event.

How should we organize this data? Let’s take a simple approach. First, assume you have all the above-mentioned items in one Excel sheet with the years they attended. Now you can sort by the different items that will help you spot trends and copy them into a new sheet. It is a much better way to view these items on an individual plane.

Take, for example, the obvious data point of Influencer or Decision-maker. With those in a separate sheet, you can pull together tables or percentages of those two items and how they have increased or decreased across the years. Why is this important? For starters, it tells you if you event is valuable enough to pull in the decision-makers of these organizations. Secondly, this can help explain why you may not be growing your exhibitor base as well and will ultimately help shift your upcoming growth strategies.

Do this for the rest of the data points, sort and copy and paste into a new tab, and pay close attention to the verticals that have changed or shifted across the years. This is a clear sign that you, the show organizer, need to keep the pulse on the industry and pivot with the shifting tides. One tool that CEIR offers that can help you do this is the Event Performance Analyzer Tool. This tool is designed to provide organizers a benchmark for how their exhibition is performing against the CEIR Index metrics: Net Square Feet (NSF), Number of Exhibitors, Professional Attendance and Real Revenue (inflation adjusted revenue).

Step 3: Take a Step Back

Once you have gotten organized and completed a brief analysis of your data, have another team member look and give their perceptions of what the data is telling them. One individual can bias data and outlooks based off preconceived perceptions. It’s extremely important to consider multiple outlooks of analysis before taking any further steps and putting together your sales and marketing strategies.

So, there we have it. A simple three (3) step process to utilizing your data. Once you go down this path, you will quickly realize how methodical you will become with all data you are collecting. Remember, data isn’t big but taking the first step to analyzing it can garner BIG gains and growth in your attendance.

Stay tuned for Step 4, Marketing & Sales Multi-Prong Approach, and check out CEIR’s new How to Grow Attendance series for even more insight on growing attendance to your B2B event.

Bill McGlade, CEM, a 10-year veteran in the events industry, has been with a show management organization, a show organizer, and most currently a technology provider (a2z, Inc). His extensive and well-rounded experience allows him to impart knowledge on his fellow peers to help them grow and increase the value of their events. If you’d like more help in understanding how to segment and analyze your data, feel free to reach out. Bill can be reached at or 202-236-6490.

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