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Miscalculate Your Event Attendance? 3 Ways to Adjust Without Spending a Fortune

Event planner Renee Warren, co-founder and co-president of New York-based Noelle-Elaine, always keeps close tabs on her RSVPs, but an influx of walk-ins or a bunch of no shows can throw off even the most careful attendance projections.

Last year when her firm was staging Circle of Sisters, the annual fall women's conference at the Jacob Javits Center that Warren describes as "a gathering of 40,000 girlfriends," some of the sessions had more people than seats.

“One of the seminars was on reality TV, so we had tons of people that came into that one," Warren says. A session led by comedian Steve Harvey also drew an overflow crowd.

At a live marketing event, a big surge or drop in attendance can cause on site event managers scrambling to make adjustments. Here are some ideas to keep your event running smoothly —and costs under control when the guest list changes dramatically.
 
Staffing Additions
A boost in attendance may call for hiring more onsite staff, especially on the registration desk, Warren says. It's never a good image for the brand or cause you're promoting if, “you have 100 people standing around with one person trying to register their names." Depending on the type of event, you may need to boost staff in other areas, too. Warren, for example, likes to have plenty of ushers on hand to appease irate attendees who can't get in to see their favorite celebrities.
 
Feeding a Larger Than Expected Crowd
Deany Dormer, event manager and marketer at Executive Events in Norfolk, Va., had to get creative with planning food and beverage services when one of her events ballooned from 300 to 600 people. She had food stations and equipment rearranged to accommodate the crowd. She also picked a less expensive lunch menu and switched sit-down dinners to buffets, which saved about 20 percent on the cost of renting space and hiring staff at the hotel.

“We added more cocktail tables for evening event meals and encouraged mingling … since we didn't have enough seats for all," Dormer says.

To save on the additional lodging required, the planners scored a deep discount in exchange for a providing a guaranteed block of rooms at a nearby hotel, Dormer says.

Last-Minute Attendance Push
Scaling up is one challenge, but what if your attendance projections are too high? Consider taking a page from the planners behind tech conference OrlandoiX who, a couple of years ago, realized their expectations were off by a factor of 10 as the kickoff date approached. After revising their forecast from 100,000 to 10,000, they conducted a media blitz that included a radio ad buy and offered free admission to area startups to drum up more interest. The effort helped them draw enough participants to come close to filling the convention center conference rooms they'd booked for the first two days of the event, according the Orlando Sentinel.

For Warren, one of the keys to making better attendance forecasts is to reassess your headcount often as the event approaches.

“Sometimes you get so busy with the minutiae of writing the script or making sure the flowers arrive, but you can't forget to ask: What are the numbers?" she says.

Sonya Stinson is a professional writer based in New Orleans. Her business content writing and reporting has appeared in Forbes.com, Bankrate.com, Entrepreneur and a host of custom, trade and association publications. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.

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