Conference Attendee Recruitment

Live Events Rock.

Reading an article by Samantha Whitehorne on the ASAE Blog, “How To Get Current Attendees To Recruit New Ones” got me thinking about the power of people in the meetings industry. Conference attendee recruitment is key to success of annual events.  Without people, there are no meetings. The best recruitment tool we have in the meetings business is happy attendees who feel engaged.  When a live event rocks, it has legs year after year.

Marketing alone is not enough to get people to sign up for an event. Attracting people to give up their time and money to travel to a conference is not as easy as some think.  I have seen many people go down the path of hosting live events to only have to cancel the conference or end up with a very small audience.  Recently a local association hosted a seminar that was doomed from the beginning, as they had not taken into consideration any steps for conference attendee recruitment.  They had hoped for 100 attendees and had seven.  While the content delivered was fine, the experience of the day was lost on everyone.

Events Are About People

Whitehorne’s article begins with a very important statement: “It’s hard work to convince new people to register for your conferences, but your current attendees may be able and willing to help.”  A first year event does not necessarily have the human ambassadors that can pump up the enthusiasm to get others on board. However, a good event will have past attendees to sing the high notes about the conference.

The three tips Whitehorne shares are important for every event committee:

  1. Get Social.  Getting a handful of people to be highlighted in your social media and to promote the event on theirs is a great idea.  A human face on an event makes people want join in the community.  A bonus idea is to make sure you get a diverse group of people to highlight, as people like to see others who are like them being engaged in the fun.
  2. Bring a Friend.  Offering some past members the chance to bring others for free or a discounted rate is a wonderful way to encourage additional attendees to come experience the conference. Make sure this discount is for first time attendees.
  3. Share Knowledge.  Get some key industry people to agree to attend special event, like a first timers reception, and then let people know they will be present.

My Ideas To Make Events Amazing (and Get People To Come Back And Tell Others)

Additionally I have three ideas that will help get attendees to spread the word and participate in conference attendee recruitment.

  1. Networking. Make your event networking super engaging. Too often events are cookie cutter and people hang in cliques. But sometimes an event creates a culture that is an interactive community. When people have an unparalleled experience they will tell everyone.  This is accomplished by getting your staff, board, and other key participants to not be “Cliquey”, but instead to interact like the future depends on it (because it does). People who attend your event want access to they industry leaders and when they feel they are welcome.  If you have second tier networking you will have a second tier event. However, when the networking is on fire, the experience is unparalleled.
  2. Its About The People. Make all decisions in planning the event on the question “Does this enhance the attendee experience”.  From speaker selection, venue, entertainment, food, break times, coffee service, etc… the real reasons for decisions must be based on participants. If you want people to brag about your conference, makes sure they know they are the start.  This also should be shared with all vendors, to ensure they are taking actions that make the attendees the star of the show.
  3. Event Host. Have a “Master of Ceremonies” who does more that tell people where to find lunch or the bathrooms. Too many events think little about who they put in the role of the event host. A meeting host is not necessarily the board president who inherits the role as part of their volunteer service (although some of them do a great job as MC, we all know some do not). When the EmCee is engaging and relates well to the audience, he or she can help promote attendance for the next year and show participants ways to help grow the event.

When people have a great time, feel the sense of community, and walk away with real learning – they come back and bring friends.


Thom Singer is a keynote speaker and professional master of ceremonies.  He is the host of two podcasts (including the popular entrepreneur podcast “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do”) and the author of 12 books.