Want to increase event attendance? Is your engagement lagging? Membership down? Do you wish more people would participate? Here’s a solution that could increase, even triple your attendance.
People feel happiest wh en they feel they belong. If you make people feel included, they support you. If they feel excluded, they undermine you. The challenge to the leadership is this: as a leader, you do feel included. It’s easy to overlook it when others are feeling left out.
To increase attendance, you have to look for ways to make everyone feel included. This is true for both in-person events and online gatherings. Online, it is easy for some to dominate the conversation. In-person, it is easy to not notice when someone is feeling left out.
I served on the board of directors of a professional association in Austin, Texas. Our goal was to increase membership. At the same time, attendance had been lagging at the meetings, so we did two things:
1. We asked each board member to say hello to everyone at every meeting and spend extra time with people the board member did not know. (Haven’t you noticed that most people gravitate toward the people they already know? So this is not something that will happen naturally. You have to put in the effort.)
2. We created “Greeters.” These were five people who agreed to talk to every person at every meeting. The five wore badges saying, “Greeter,” and they were instructed to engage in actual conversations (not just, “Hello. Go on in. Make yourself comfortable.”) At the end of the meetings, each one recruited someone else to be a Greeter at the next meeting. Shy members and new members usually liked this assignment. It gave them an assignment that helped them meet people.
With this plan, everyone in attendance was assured of being welcomed by at least two people, a board member and a greeter. The association met once a month and we initiated this welcoming policy at a June meeting. By August, we had tripled the attendance. Three times as many people were now attending our meetings!
None of this required extra time or extra money. The board members and the greeters were at the meetings anyway. Instead of talking to each other and old friends, they were reaching out to everyone.
An ex-president was at that August gathering. It had been awhile since she had attended one of our events and she was astonished to see so many people in attendance. She pulled me aside and whispered, “What happened here?”
People feel happiest when they feel they belong. Welcoming is a simple act that can create a major impact in any organization. However, it doesn’t happen without forethought.
I have been the keynote speaker at over one thousand events and conventions. The board of directors and officers will typically be introduced at these proceedings and I like to watch where the board members are seated. Are they sitting together or are they mixed in among the general membership? Ninety percent of the time, when they are introduced, the board members are sitting together.
It is a natural tendency to gravitate toward the familiar. That’s why it is crucial to make a plan in advance to welcome everyone—new attendees as well as old. By consciously foregoing the familiar and seating themselves among those with whom they aren’t normally in contact, board members and leaders can create a strong sense of community.
At the association in Texas, not only did our attendance triple, people joined. By the end of the year, our membership had doubled.
(Excerpt from To Lead is to Serve – How to Attract Volunteers & Keep Them by Shar McBee