Don’t beat yourself up. It happens to the best of us. Sometimes no matter how often we advertise, shout from the rooftops, or beg people to attend, an event flops. There are several reasons this could happen. In this blog post, we’ll go over the most common causes (but again, avoiding those doesn’t always mean you’ll have a giant crowd). Additionally, we’ll talk about how you can pick yourself up afterward and what you should do post-flop.

Why Did My Chamber Event Flop?

First, there are reasons within your control and reasons that are completely beyond you. The insurance business refers to them as force majeure reasons.

Here are a few things that fall into this category:

  • ​The weather: It’s hard to host a successful event during a hurricane, forest fire, sandstorm, hailstorm, blizzard, a Taylor Swift sighting on the other side of town, or right after an earthquake.
  • A dueling event: Some events are so popular, you just can’t compete. If there’s one of these scheduled ahead of time (like a Taylor Swift concert), switch your event date. Unfortunately, sometimes an event is scheduled after you decide the date for yours, like your high school football team making States and half the county wanting to be there. In that case, it’s too late to cancel.
  • A PR nightmare: Sometimes the news covers things you just don't want to know such as a last-minute report of food poisoning caused by your event caterer.

Additionally, there are often reasons within your control that you must do your best to avoid. If you’re a newbie planner, here are a few things you should avoid:

  • Poor Planning. Inadequate planning can lead to logistical issues, such as scheduling conflicts, venue problems, or insufficient resources. It's essential to have a detailed plan and timeline to ensure everything runs smoothly. Before scheduling the event, ask your contacts in the community to see if they are aware of any conflicts. You don’t want another group stealing your thunder, nor do you want them feeling like you stole theirs.
  • Lack of Promotion. If the event is not adequately promoted, it may not attract the desired audience. Effective marketing through various channels, including social media, email newsletters, and community partnerships, is crucial to boost attendance. Don’t forget to promote in unique places like your email signature. You can’t promote too much if you vary your attempts across channels and ask your ambassadors to do the same.
  • Unappealing Content or Program. If the event's content, speakers, or activities are not interesting or relevant to your audience, attendance will tank. Understanding the needs and interests of the chamber members is essential for creating engaging content. Additionally, you can have a great speaker and content but if one of the other community groups just hosted a similar topic or the same speaker, people may feel like they’ve already seen it. They may decide their time is too valuable to watch a rerun.
  • Budget Constraints. Insufficient budget or mismanagement of funds can limit the quality of the event. For instance, there is a disconnect if you host your event at a swanky villa, bring in a deli tray from the supermarket, and ask people to bring their own beverages. Be consistent in your theme. If you can’t afford food after paying for the venue, you’re hosting it at the wrong place. If your budget won’t allow for a nice event, find other ways your members will appreciate.
  • ​Lack of Networking Opportunities. This is one of those things that everyone says they want. Yet, sometimes it doesn’t go so well. You may find that people just talk to those they came with. For this reason, you may be tempted to limit networking time at some of your events. Then, sure enough, you’ll hear about it. If the event does not provide ample opportunities for attendees to connect and build relationships, it may not be perceived as valuable. Keep the networking.
  • Unfavorable Timing. Scheduling the event at an inconvenient time can negatively impact attendance. Sadly, these days it’s hard to find a convenient time. Do morning events do better? Maybe lunch? Or is it the cocktail hour? There’s no ideal time. It’s something you need to figure out with your members. Plus, it’s getting progressively harder to lure people who work from home out of their sweats and into your event space.
  • Ineffective Follow-Up. Even after the event is over, you should continue engagement by following up with attendees, collecting feedback, and maintaining communication. Failing to do so may result in a lack of sustained interest in future events. Maintaining communication is crucial to staying top of mind. Engaging with them on social media can also be the difference between them seeing your posts or not.
  • Technology Issues. Technical difficulties, such as problems with audiovisual equipment or online platforms for virtual events, can disrupt the flow of the event and create a negative experience for attendees. Fair or not, they may think future events will be the same and decide to skip them.

    What if your event already happened and you’re reeling from a painful experience? How do you recover from that when you’re afraid to even show your face around town?

Recovering from a Dismal Event

While it’s not easy, you do need to keep a few things in mind:

  • Perspective. It’s not like you caused COVID. You had an event that didn’t make money. If you learned something from it, it’s less likely to happen again.
  • It’s not the talk of the town. If you had a dismal showing, there are only a handful of people who were there to know and could talk about it. If they do, perhaps it will just make people feel bad and they’ll be more apt to show up at your next event.
  • It happens. Everyone experiences a lackluster time or two. It’s what you do next that matters.

How to Safeguard Yourself Against a Repeat (Non)Performance

Experiencing a flop with an event can be disheartening, but it also provides valuable opportunities for learning and improvement. Here’s what to do after a failed event to ensure future success:

  • Conduct a Post-Event Analysis. Assess what went wrong and what could have been done differently. Identify specific issues related to planning, promotion, content, or logistics.
  • Ask. Use surveys, feedback forms, direct interviews, or a simple conversation to gather input from attendees, sponsors, and vendors. Ask about their overall experience, what they liked and disliked, and any suggestions for improvement. If you have a strong relationship with a member who didn’t attend, ask them why. Honest feedback is essential for understanding the shortcomings and asking someone who didn’t go can help you understand your lack of marketing draw.
  • Review Budget and Resources. Analyze the budget allocation and resource management. Determine whether there were financial constraints that affected the event's quality. Consider whether additional resources or better allocation could have made a difference. If the event was a ticketed one, was the event ticket price’s value clearly communicated?
  • Evaluate Promotion Strategies. Review your marketing and promotion efforts. Were the right channels used? Did you reach your target audience effectively? Assess the timing, messaging, and visibility of your promotional materials. Did you lean too heavily on one channel? Did you make it easy for people to share the information? Did you use fear of missing out to drive action?
  • Assess Event Content and Programming. Examine the event content and programming. Did it meet the needs and expectations of your audience? Consider the relevance, variety, and engagement level of the sessions or activities. Was the content clearly communicated? Did people know what was in it for them?
  • Reassess Event Goals and Objectives. Ensure the goals and objectives of the event align with the needs and interests of your members and your chamber mission.
  • Create an Action Plan. Develop a detailed action plan based on the insights gained from the analysis and feedback. Outline specific steps to address the identified issues and improve the overall event planning and execution process.
  • ​Implement Changes. Put the action plan into motion. Make changes to your event planning strategy, marketing approach, or any other areas that need improvement. This may involve refining processes, enhancing communication, or adopting new technologies. Perhaps that event no longer appeals to your target market.
  • Communicate Transparently. If appropriate, communicate with your audience transparently about the challenges faced during the previous event and the steps you are taking to address them. Demonstrating a commitment to improvement can rebuild trust.
  • Build a Supportive Team. Create an event planning team to help bring new energy and ideas. Foster a collaborative and supportive environment where team members feel comfortable providing input and contributing their suggestions.
  • Test and Iterate. Implement small-scale tests for new strategies before committing to them fully, like A/B testing a new marketing approach. This allows you to assess its effectiveness and adjust as needed.
  • Say Goodbye. Sometimes, an event’s life has run its course and it’s simply time to let it go. This could be because it no longer interests your members or it’s not feasible from a budget perspective. Perhaps it doesn’t align with your chamber mission or strategic plan. If any of these things are true, it’s likely time to say goodbye or have another group become the event’s champion.

Setbacks are a natural part of event planning. The key is to view them as opportunities for growth. By learning from mistakes, adapting your approach, and continuously seeking to improve, you increase the likelihood of future events being more successful.

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