How do you keep a high retention rate of attendees for free events?

We host a lot of free breakfast events throughout the year and as we are growing, so are our number of breakfasts. We now have almost 1 a week but I’m finding it hard to attract enough attendees to make sure I have the right amount on the day.

I usually start sending comms 4 weeks before the event to keep some interaction.

Any help or ideas would be greatly appreciated!


Hey Ashling, interesting question. Can you tell us a bit more about your events? Are they just breakfast meetups/networking or are there specific content and agendas at each one?

You’re saying you run events almost every week. Are you aiming to get the same people to come back each week (plus anyone new) or are your realistically aiming for your previous customers to come back for, say, 1 in every 3 or 4 events?

Hi Nick,

So we just arrange events for in-house recruiters, conferences as well as breakfasts and an exhibition but our breakfasts are aimed at a specific topic such as employer branding, volume recruitment, ATS etc

They are only for 20-30 in-house recruiters and we do get the same people that come back to our events which is great but we don’t expect them to come to every week more like once a month or so but we try to get as many new people as possible too. Last year we had about half the amount of breakfast events and they sort of run themselves in terms of not having to go out and promote them, they would just fill up without us trying however this year because we have more I’m struggling to attract the right amount of people to them.

It may be that I have 40 signed up but then only have 20 that turn up on the day so finding it hard to not only attract the right amount but also retain them too!


Personally I don’t like free events. It is far too easy to drop out or simply not care. Free events also tend to have pressure selling at the end (not saying yours does).

Personally I would charge for the events to ensure turn up rates, even if this is then given back in credit for breakfast.

Matt Kendall

Ok to clarify (correct me if i’m wrong!) it sounds like you have a problem a) with over-saturating your existing audience now that you’ve increased the number of events, and
b) ensuring people show up after they’ve signed up.

For the former i guess you need to expand your reach to attract new members. Word of mouth is always one of the strongest marketing channels, so can you run some kind of incentive/reward to encourage existing attendees to bring a new member along?

Because you’re targeting people with specific job title (recruiters), it may be worth taking a look at something like LinkedIn advertising where you can target people by job title amongst other things. If you can figure out a rough idea for how much each attendee is worth to you, then you can know how much you can spend on advertising to get them there.

How are you currently marketing your events?

On the retention side, this thread here may help you:

I do agree with @Mattkendall that no show rates are a real annoyance with free events. For me the normal drop out rate has always been around 50%, but the other day we had an event that was more like 75%! Very hard to predict sometimes as so many things can influence it e.g. day of the week, time of day etc.

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I have started to put in my mailshots to the participants:“In order for us to keep these events free then please avoid dropping out at the last minute” in red and bold!

It has helped and the drop our rate has decreased


Industry-wide, free events have an attrition rate of around 50% like Matt says when there is no financial commitment event the smallest change to attendees own agenda can cause them to choose not to attend.

Here are some things we do to try and increase the number of conversions at our events

  1. Ask attendees to invite a colleague of friend who might also benefit from the event
  2. Use a platform like Event Tribe to start conversations between attendee’s pre and post event
  3. Make attendees part of the decision-making process, time, location, date, refreshments etc
  4. Use a meeting solution or event app for attendees to request to meet other attendees at the event, highly unlikely someone will drop out of an event of they have arranged to meet someone
  5. Offer a small incentive, a guide, ebook, video or report for only registrants who attend.

Also, follow up with those that didn’t attend and ask why? It may not be your event at all it may be something different for each and out of your control

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