Events are a huge financial risk! They are tricky to do well and not spend a good amount of money (or excessive amounts of time, requiring staffing). Especially conferences. It also doesn’t help that, at least in Western cultures, we’re last minute about making commitments and (if not paying a lot) quick to be like “I have this big project this week so maybe I should work instead, or maybe I want to watch Netflix instead of going to an evening event.”
For conferences where attendees travel, 2-4 weeks from the show are when a huge number of tickets sell. It’s incredibly frustrating when you must spend money upfront to say book a venue and need to have a better idea of how many actual attendees are coming.
Ticket projections are a math upon themselves. The best way most of us are able to do it is looking at trends from past conferences. For CMX Summit, I created a ticket sales velocity chart, and it was pretty incredible to see the patterns of how tickets sold being almost identical year-to-year, even with some ticket growth and having an event West Coast US vs East Coast US.
For investments, pre-show for people who don’t know you: speakers are the big pull. Sponsors can be too, if there are companies your attendees want to connect with.
However, a lot of hype is word-of-mouth which means you have to have at least one event happening before it happens. For investments there, a/v is perhaps the biggest you can do, and it’s not cheap to do it correctly. But other details like having your event well organized, thinking about flow of attendees, accessibility, welcoming attendees, design, professional help, good food, etc. Because it’s so expensive, we often short-change the details and they discourage people from coming back, especially if your ticket is expensive. Don’t expect me to come back to your show if your vegetarian lunch option is hummus on a pita with a slice of American cheese and I paid $700 for my ticket (true story). Last year, I had an attendee reach out very concerned because a friend of hers went to our show the year before and that venue was so cold the friend chose not to return to our conference, or engage with us enough to know that we moved the show not just venues, but cities.
You do want to invest smartly. A couple weeks ago, I broke down why from a financial POV Universal FanCon – a pop culture convention that was kickstarted – failed and canceled their event a week before the show. It was a mess, but they were never set up right with their finances, attendance size, investments, and expectations. Sadly, since I wrote that, they’ve chosen to blame their community for not enough ticket sales, when actually wanting to sell 4,000 tickets for a first year pop culture convention, over promising Kickstarter backers, and overspending set them up for fail.