Eventiquette: What to do when guests don’t show up at an event

As a corporate event organiser, one of the best feelings in the world is a guest list filled with positive RSVPs. Getting invitees to select the ‘yes, I will be attending’ option is the first hurdle to overcome, after all. However, this good feeling can quickly dissipate when guests fail to show up to your event despite indicating that they will be attending.

You worked hard on planning your event, putting a great deal of effort into promoting it and arranging the perfect experience for your delegates. With all this hard work, the least guests could do is pitch, right? Regrettably, right or wrong, there are almost always no-shows.

Sometimes people have to attend last minute meetings, fall ill, or have car issues – these are examples of valid reasons why invitees don’t turn up on the day. Unfortunately sometimes people simply don’t feel it’s worth the effort.

So what can you do about these non-arrivers? What lessons can you learn from such an experience? And how can you improve your event registration process to minimise the chances of this happening at future events? We consider all these questions below.

Following up on missing guests

The approach to take when following up on no-shows depends on the size of your event. If it’s a small event, you could personally phone each delegate to find out the reason why they may have missed it. This needs to be done professionally, so be mindful how you angle your question “We missed you at our event and just wanted to give you a call to check that everything is okay? Could you not find the venue, did you get lost?” Approach it from the angle that you’re calling to check that there wasn’t something you may have overlooked from your side, or that you are genuinly concerned about why they may have not shown up.

If there was a very large number of absentees, you probably won’t have the manpower to phone them all, but you could send out an email. Don’t expect many replies to such an email, but you can use it to let the no-shows know what they missed out on. Include links to picture galleries, videos or blog posts around your event – all little tricks to make them regret not pitching. Take it as an opportunity to also share some of the content and learnings from the event, and to mention any upcoming events that they may want to attend.

Sending out invitations and reminders

The corporate event timetable is easier to manage if you break it down into a 6 week cycle (i.e. a schedule beginning 6 weeks before the event date). Your timetable should look something like this:

  • 6 weeks before – send out a Save the Date, which serves as a preview of what’s happening and when, so people have enough time to plan accordingly.
  •  4 weeks before – send out an official invitation. Begin tracking the process by using event organisation software that keeps an up-to-date record of your RSVP list.
  • 2 weeks before – send a first reminder to non-respondents.
  • 1 week before – send a second reminder to non-respondents. Make it enticing, teasing them with details of who is attending and what will be covered in the event. Also, if you have a secondary target audience (a B-list of invitees), now is the time to invite them. It is also advisable to confirm the RSVPs of those who have already replied.
  • 3 days before – this is the time to start getting personal. Send an email from you, the organiser, with your contact details, the programme for the event, and directions to the venue. This is your opportunity to let the individual know you’re looking forward to meeting and hosting them. Implied is the message that you’ve put a lot of effort into this event, so it’s worthwhile showing up. It also establishes a personal connection with the invitee, making it less likely that they’ll let you down with non-attendance. This communication could even be sent by the headlining speaker, to even greater effect.
  • 1 day before – send a quick email/SMS reminder of the event, to further reduce the likelihood of your guests forgetting.
  • 3 days after – send an email to all who were invited. This email should either make delegates happy that they attended or regret that they didn’t.

Tips to reduce no-shows

  • Make sure that the date of your event doesn’t clash with another event in the same industry. Also check sports calendars, national events and public holidays.
  • An amazing venue and highly regarded speakers always go a very long way towards ensuring a good attendance level. If there’s the chance to go somewhere special and interact with extremely interesting people, guests make the extra effort to turn up. Another time-honoured enticer is goodie bags – everyone loves a free gift!
  • Once your invitees have registered, make sure to follow up with them closer to the time. To do this, you need to remind them why they signed up to attend in the first place; remind them of the benefits of your event, what they’ll learn, who they’ll meet, and who else will be attending.
  • Remind them of the details of your event by email, SMS or even a phone call. Take all of the guesswork out of the equation for guests by ensuring they have directions on where to go, where to park, and if there will be a parking fee.  Make the work of managing your RSVP list as hassle-free as possible so that you can focus on putting together all the necessary ingredients for a stellar corporate event.