What no-show rate do you expect at free events?

Whenever i’ve done free events in the past i’ve always anticipated a 40-50% no show rate, but I’d be interested to know what other people expect, and any ideas to reduce it?

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A company I have worked with provided a free coffee and a bag of crisps for the first 20 people through the door.


It’s a really interesting question, one that I am very familiar with. Within my current role, all of the events I run have to be free as my construction project is taxpayer funded and it would be inappropriate to charge. We have quite a strong brand and certain events (like behind the scenes public access such as Open House) have a drop out rate of between 15 - 25%. Events we run aimed at the younger generation (such as Open Doors) have a slightly higher drop out rate of between 25 and 35% drop out. This figure however drops dramatically if you build the event around a school group or set of school groups from the very start, but then limits the event to only those invited.

How to improve the no show rate… from my experience it’s quite hard to change the rates in any dramatic way. I have tried incentivizing to get people to attend, but fundamentally there may be a sense of ‘if I don’t need to go it’s fine because I haven’t paid anything’, as opposed to where money has been paid for a ticket and this seems to be the crux of my problem.

As Dewi mentioned, coffee is a good way to get people to attend a free event. When I do cycle safety events, these are usually roadside in central London in the morning rush from 7:30-10am, and as an enticement to get cyclists to stop we offer free bacon and/or egg rolls, tea and coffee, and a chance to get their bike checked. So apart from food and drink, if you were to offer a service or giveaway it has to be relevant and something which will help or interest people.

Love to hear of other ideas out there.


In the recruitment agency space dropout of free events is up to 50%.

We ran a few, where to attempt to combat this problem, people paid a “deposit” to secure their place which was refunded after they attended. It worked really well in terms of getting numbers through the door but was an admin nightmare.

At the end of the day I agree with you @Adam that many people think 'if I don’t need to go it’s fine because I haven’t paid anything" - so we now charge for all our events. We are lucky in that we can.

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@DewiEirig I like the idea of incentivising people to get down by creating a bit of urgency. It’s amazing what people will do for free food! Ties to what @KtMcPhee was saying here about getting people through the door in time:

@LouiseTriance @Adam as you say that essential problem of ‘if I don’t need to go it’s fine because I haven’t paid anything’ is so hard to solve. Thinking out loud here but is there a way to build value into a ticket (that isn’t money) that the attendee will lose out on by not attending. For example, if you were holding a Q & A as part of your event, you could get people to enter their questions when on the ticket registration page, so that they’d feel more incentivised to turn up and get an answer to their own questions. Do you think this would work?

Out of interest Adam why do you reckon there’s a higher dropout rate with younger people. It sort of intuitively makes sense to me but i’'m not actually sure why. Do younger people have a wider choice of events to attend or busier schedules perhaps? Without getting too deep (:dizzy_face:) is it a cultural thing that younger people value commitment a bit less possibly?

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Re: incentivising yes, an added value is going to attract more people, and the Q&A question submission sounds like a really good idea especially if you have a high profile guest to answer them. I think the main issue of attitude towards free tickets will remain and the added value will have to be something special to really reduce the drop out percentage. Off the top of my head situations where you get extra content / personalised content can be more niche such as ComicCon or the extra scenes and commentary on a DVD, so I suppose the question is would the option to submit your question be special enough for your specific crowd?

Re: the drop out rate, I’m not sure to be honest, it’s just something that I have experienced in my current role and haven’t been able to get to the bottom of! It may be that they are unaware of the effort and work that goes in to opening up our project in the way we can, and how limited an opportunity it really is. I have asked around after previous events but not really got anything substantial back to shed any more light on the subject.

I love the pre-asked question idea. one thing that has worked for me is having small group workshops at the event and allowing people to sign up when they register. Having secured an “elusive/exclusive” space in one of these I’m sure they feel more committed.

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Yes I think pre registering for workshops or break out sessions is a good way of doing it too, but relates a bit more to larger/longer conference style events.

I find the other difficulty with the no show rate is finding it hard to accurately tell the venue how many attendees you are expecting, particularly if there’s catering involved or a certain style of seating you want. No one wants empty seats but equally it leads to a poor attendee experience if they can’t sit anywhere (or eat anything).

Obviously it won’t work with every event but we hosted a CPD accredited event last year and you had to attend to get the CPD points (we checked everyone in and only emailed the certificates to those that came). Perhaps something similar I.e. Points to redeem on things you sell (money off voucher etc) or they get some info or something emailed to them. It depends on budgets and how much you can spend on a welcome/loyalty gift.

Ah, yes. The conferences I organise are free to attend and our dropout rates are about 30%. Annoying as we pre-order food for people and (despite sending an email to ask them to let us know if they can’t make it) people still just don’t turn up!

I think at the end of the day, you have to give them FOMO (easier said than done I realise). If they really wanted to go, they would go, no?


I like the FOMO idea for free events. There’s an opportunity to create real excitement about attending, rather than have people just think “I paid for this so I’ll lose the money if I don’t go”

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@landtanin hopefully some answers in this thread for you. What action did an attendee take to indicate “confirmed” (as opposed to just signing up?)

Thanks, I hope so. Well, we called them and asked for a confirmation, whether they gonna really come to the event, 2 days before the event. And 40 of them said “yes”.

Our running average for free events is 25%.

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From my experience it’s been around 50%, perhaps even higher if its raining!

My absolute favourite way to reduce this is to send a guilt trip email, a few hours beforehand. So it’ll be something like “Can’t wait to see you at XX event tonight!” with lots of personal detail. My old university (York) did this and I definitely felt guilted into going on more than one ocassion when I was tired!


30% typically but we’ve found that we can fill events to capacity and drive demand by informing people when tickets have sold out and encouraging waiting list sign ups. We then schedule 3 reminder emails ahead of the event emphasising the importance of cancelling if plans have changed.
This results in very few “no shows” and ironically drives demand for future events as it raises awareness of the level of demand.


@Sara_Robertson love this tactic - filter out potential no shows beforehand, and fill the spaces with people eager to attend.

We’ve also used a ballot system before where attendees apply for a ticket in a ballot. Then tickets are allocated at random and people feel grateful to have received a ticket so are much more likely to attend. I think we had about 1000 applications in the ballot for around 400 tickets. If you combined this with the above tactic I think you could get that no show rate really low.


For our events we typically look at a 50% drop out rate if the event is free. But usually our free events run in the evening and are more informal. Recently we’ve started organising free to attend conferences (more often a paid for offer) where we’re seeing more people turn up on the day than have registered! I think it’s about the audience - if people don’t get out much and would be grateful to come to something for free, when normally they wouldn’t be able to afford to come - turnout will be much higher and drop outs much lower. If however it’s quite a senior audience and an informal, after hours setting - where the pressure and expectation is less, then a higher drop out. Predicting exactly, or to within 10%, is very difficult though!

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Love the idea of the ballot process inferring scarcity from the off and waiting lists is a great way of keeping the event on people’s radars. Will definitely build them in some time in the future when the opportunity arises. Thanks both.

I’ve always worked with an assumption that 30-40% won’t show if the event is free

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