Findings from the SLC Event Makers Summit

October 06 2015

This past week, I helped organize the SLC Event Makers Summit in downtown Salt Lake City. SpinGo put on the event, and we wanted to find out current areas of opportunity for events in the city. We performed a SWOT analysis, which analyzes the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that face event makers here locally in Salt Lake City. Our goal in playing this innovation game was to find out how we can get more people to events, a question that I feel resonates with every event maker out there. 
We came up with a good list of opportunities to help improve event attendance, and while some of the ideas were tailored to Salt Lake specifically, all of the general ideas are principles you can apply to your own events. Here are the five main takeaways from the conference.

1. Get city and tourism leaders involved. 

Often times, event makers and civic leaders aren’t on the same page. During our breakout session, we found that there is a strong need for better communication between event makers and civic leaders to city visitors. We found that if the office of travel and tourism saw events as an opportunity to boost the local economy, they would be more involved in letting business travelers and conventioneers know about fun events happening around the city. While this exact situation may not apply to every city around the country, this is something that could be applied to improve event attendance in many cities.  If we do a better job at communicating with the office of travel and tourism, we would see an increase in the number of people attending our events. 
Jeff Whiteley, the founder of Excellence in the Community, talked to a conventioneer from Dallas who was in town for the week. While talking, the conventioneer mentioned how she had stumbled upon his event and wished that the office of travel and tourism had reached out to all the conventioneers to tell them about the event that was going on. If we, as event makers, take the initiative to reach out to local civic offices and organizations, we will reach more visitors and give them something fun to do while they are in town, thus improving the attendance at events. Events bring in a lot of money, in fact, live events bring in $24.9 billion worth of revenue each year, and that number is increasing. That number should turn some heads.  

2. Remember to say because. What do attendees actually care about?

As we are planning events, sometimes it is easy to get lost in all the features that our events boast. We get so caught up in the details of our event that we forget to mention the real reason people are coming out to our events. 
Have you ever caught yourself advertising and telling people they should come to your event because there will be food, music, booths, games, etc? Is somebody really coming to your event to play corn toss? Most likely, no. Instead, remember to give people a reason why they should attend your event. For example, tell people to attend your event because it is a night away from the kids or because it is the best date activity in the city. What are the common reasons people go out to events? They want something fun to do, they want to take somebody on a date, they want to hang out with friends and spend time with family, they want to meet new people, etc. These ideas seem so basic and so simple, but they are the real motivators for people. 
Michelin tires had a great example of giving the reason why people should buy their tires when they used this advertisement: 
You don’t buy tires because of how many grooves they have, or how long a lifespan they will have, but instead, you buy tires because they keep your family safe. 
Taylor Harris from the Food Truck League gave a powerful example with data to back it up about the power of saying “because” to get people to do things. He talked about an experiment where people were standing in line to make copies. Then, a person would walk in and go to the front of the line and ask “Can I jump in front of you?” When the person asked this question, 60% of people let her jump in front of them to start making copies. However, when the experimenter jumped to the front of the line and asked “Can I jump in front of you to make copies because I have to be somewhere” the response increased to an astounding 93% of people who let her jump in front of them. 
She gave a reason why she needed to make copies right away and people listened. The final experiment is even more interesting. When the experimenter asked “Can I cut in front of you because I need to make copies”, 90% of people still allowed the experimenter to jump in front. The reason itself wasn’t compelling. Obviously they all needed to make copies since they were in the line to make copies, however, because the experimenter gave a reason, even if it isn’t a very good reason, people were still willing to let her jump to the front of the line.
Are you giving a good reason why people should attend your event? Are you using the word because? If you haven’t tried this out yet, give it a try and see how people react to your advertising. 

3. Act like you care.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, most of the time at your events, you aren’t going to have the biggest bands or musicians performing. Instead, you are probably going to have some great local talent performing that you know are amazing, they just don’t have the big names yet. It’s not every day you get Taylor Swift to perform for your conference, and most of us don’t have the budget to get big names to come and perform. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t be proud about the talent that we have at our events! 
One of the best things we can do is be loud and proud about who we have coming to our event because even if your attendees don’t know who is performing, you do, and you are the expert who found these great people to come and perform at your event. You were the one who did the talent hunting, the gathering, and you brought in the best talent you could get. The audience doesn’t have to know a single thing about them, but your goal is to let them know that you did your job to bring them great talent. 
Jeff Whiteley told a story of when he was in Las Vegas and he saw a huge marquee on the side of one of the hotels that said ‘(Insert a random name) is playing tonight’. He mentioned to us how he had never once heard of the musician who was performing, but because it was on the marquee of of the hotel, it didn’t matter that he knew him or not. The hotel knew the performer, and that is all that mattered. He trusted the hotels reputation and knew that they wouldn’t pick a dud performer. The same came be said for your event. Care about the performers at your event.

4. Technology is a threat. 

One of the biggest topics and concerns that came up during the conference was the ever present threat of technology stealing away attendees from our events. With better phones, faster internet, and bigger TV’s, many people opt to watch movies or stream an event rather than go and attend it in person. It seems that many people would rather enjoy the comforts of their home as opposed to go out and attend live events. So how do we combat this growing trend?
Instead of having people elect to bypass your event and stay in for the night, use technology at your event to entice individuals to come and attend. You can do this however you feel best fits your event, but you can make sure to do things like have a hashtag for your event, a contest for people who post to social media, use live streaming, or more. There are many ways to incorporate technology into your event. Get creative and get to work! 
Another key component to this idea is that if you use the right messaging, people will be more likely to come out and attend your event. Right now, the ideas of seizing the moment and never missing out are culturally talked about trends. People say things like #YOLO (You Only Live Once) or #FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) in daily conversations. Make sure you are connecting with those people through those same ideas. Make people really think about what they will be missing if they choose not to go to your event and and opt for another night in front of their TV.
Decline in event attendance

5. Find a way around parking.

While discussing what prevents people from attending events, almost everybody had the same answer: parking. Parking is a major obstacle for many people because they either don’t want to pay or they don’t want to walk a long ways to get to the event. Who wants to be a concert and worry if their car is going to get towed or not? When you are hosting an event, there are a few different options that you can think of to help alleviate this problem. First of all, try and have your event close to public transportation. If people can get to your event via bus, metro, or any other public transportation, many people will choose to use that option, clearing up parking spaces for the people who choose to drive as well. 
Another helpful way to reduce parking issues is to make your event bike friendly. It may be worth it to hire a bike valet service that will park and keep your attendees bikes safe, as biking is a growing trend in the United States. If the weather is good, biking can greatly reduce parking issues. 
Encourage carpooling at your event. Often times friends will all drive separately to events so that they can leave at their own convenience. However, if you offer an incentive such as discounted tickets or people get entered into a drawing for carpooling (and taking alternative methods of transportation), you should see carpooling increase. How you measure this could be difficult, as you shouldn’t just take people by their word. They need to show some sort of proof, such as a picture of them in their car on the way to your event that will help you know if they car pooled. I will caution safety first though, so be careful how you ask for proof of carpooling. Remind your attendees that a lot of the fun of events is sharing experiences with your friends and family. Carpooling allows people to build memories together, even if they don’t originally think that. 
Benefits of carpooling