After the pandemic, the numbers of no-shows to events has increased and become a real problem. Editorial Services called for suggestions and ideas from other staff to solve this problem. This article is the first of two containing the suggestions and ideas that we received. Photo: David Naylor.2023-06-15
Lots of suggestions and opinions about no-shows to events
The response to the question of what we can do about the problem of many no-shows to events that Editorial Services raised in an article on 12 May 2023 has been quite impressive. While no ‘silver bullet’ solution has been found, we received quite a number of thoughtful suggestions and opinions.
Some 30 employees then contacted Editorial Services with a range of opinions, ideas and suggestions. In fact, so many good suggestions have come in to Editorial Services that we want to share with you that we have divided them into two articles. You can read the second article “Cultural change needed to reduce no-shows to events” here.
Those who contacted us were from all over the University and work as heads of research, researchers, teaching staff or administrators. Since some asked to remain anonymous, we have decided to make everyone’s suggestions anonymous.
Problem confirmed by many
The majority of those who contacted us confirmed that there were many employees who sign up for various events but then choose not to show up to the event. For example, one employee told us that at large meetings or staff meetings for department staff at premises outside the University, there are many last-minute no-shows.
“It felt to me like the Department looked foolish, and the businesses organising these events saw us as troublesome or difficult to deal with. It seems to me that some people reserve a place or click ‘Yes’ as they do with Facebook events with the ‘Interested’ option, but they don’t necessarily mean that they intend to come to the event.”
Another employee notes that things have gotten much worse after the pandemic and has a theory about why:
“It feels as if since the pandemic, people expect to have the opportunity to attend online. Even if you clearly state that this option doesn’t exist, I think that people perhaps sign up, but can’t be bothered going to a physical place and just don’t show up; people have got used to being able to handle everything from their office.”
Another employee expressed similar thoughts on the topic:
“People sign up for an event. Then the weather turns out nice and the person is ‘working from home’ and forgets to cancel their attendance.”
The difference between in-person and online
Many of those who contacted us describe a significant difference in how people view registering for an in-person or online event:
“I think there is a big difference between and in-person event and an online one. I don’t take online events as seriously because it will happen anyway even if I don’t show up.”
Here’s another voice on the effects of the pandemic:
“During the pandemic, I can imagine that many people signed up for things, but then maybe were tired of sitting in front of Zoom for so much of their time, and so they just skipped attending. Not attending an online event you have signed up for is probably seen as not that big a deal – unless of course everyone thinks the same – because it does not affect the event that much: no name tags or coffee ordered or anything like that. Now that we’re getting used to in-person events again, many may still be stuck in that same mindset.”
Think through needs and implementation
One line of thought that was taken up by several employees concerned how important it is for the organiser to think through whether the gathering should be an event, the best way to organise the event, and who they can expect will show up.
“If I read between the lines, and look at the events I myself attend, it’s events about contemporary matters that draw people in. The discussions, the passion and the engagement of the attendees. The opportunity for informal conversations over coffee with people other than those you regularly interact with.
But many events are hybrid events. Often that isn’t stated either. But when vitally important lectures and presentations come in online form, you go home, back to the office or don’t attend at all. That’s what I do. I can watch the video on my TV at home. With a better picture.
To increase in-person attendance, remove the opportunity to listen to and give presentations online. I have been participating in online meetings since the late 1980s. But only when they are needed, to deal with simple questions.”
Another voice that summarises many of the ideas we received and identifies a way forward:
“I think we first have to realise that things will never be the way they were before the pandemic. It was a transformative experience for many, if not all, and the effects will be long-lasting. And then I also think that we have to see this as an opportunity rather than a problem.
Blame will get you nowhere. Ultimately, (in the case of conferences, scientific meetings, etc.) we are in a resource-strapped environment where time, money and people are very limited and we have to work hard for access to these scarce resources. I believe that, as a result of the above, the nature and format of conferences and scientific meetings will have to change and we will have to do this.
Some conferences and meetings will need to be online. Their format can’t just be the same as for in-person meetings – ‘just online’. They will instead need to include new things (such as different program structures, elements other than just the lecture, lectures being of different lengths...) and we need good technical installations for online and hybrid conferencing.
Online conferences and meetings offer enormous opportunities as they can help reduce CO2 emissions, allow for a greater variety of participants, increase information exchange by lowering barriers to access, etc.
In-person meetings are important and must not just disappear. We have to work hard, harder than before, to make them attractive – even more attractive than before the pandemic. There are many questions about how best to do that, but they’re all about how to make a meeting attractive and so worthwhile that people will come.”
A three-point strategy to tackle no-shows
One employee has taken the time to write down a strategy in three points aimed at organisers of events. Much of the content of this strategy is similar to the ideas presented by many who contacted us:
“Most important of all: Make the events high-value.
There are too many events that start late, proceed at a slow pace or are poorly prepared. This means that people are happy to miss an event because they have learned from past experience that many events are not a good use of their time.
Most seminars could convey the relevant information in much less time if they were structured and conducted with more care. For example: We never check the quality of external speakers’ presentations before they present, so they are often a disappointment.
And the worst thing is not respecting people’s time by delaying the start to accommodate people who are late, effectively punishing those who are on time.
Important: Make it easier for people to be honest.
Don’t just offer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ options – let people choose ‘maybe’. This also allows the planner to be more realistic. You can combine this with the above by saying that refreshments are reserved for people who responded ‘yes’ and available to people who responded ‘maybe’ on a first come, first served basis.
Helpful: Build a psychological commitment.
Send out the list of registered attendees in the e-mail (not just the cc list) so that there is a bit of social pressure, that you agreed to attend. You can justify this by saying that you are providing the list to help people connect with others with similar interests.
Buying refreshments and explicitly pointing out that you have spent money for each attendee also helps.
You can build on this by explicitly asking them to contact you as soon as possible if they are not able to come so that you can cancel their order. This emphasises that you have acted based on their commitment and that there is a cost associated with them breaking their commitment. Both of these factors make people feel more committed to attending.”