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  • Catherine Gresty

Dealing with the 'no shows' at events

One of the biggest frustrations of organising events in the health and care sector is how many people register to attend an event and then do not show up. It’s no great surprise you may say, when you consider that the majority of events in this sector are free, that the demands on people’s time are so great (nurses, doctors, academics, business) and that the sector is saturated with events, so there is so much choice that people do not feel that they have to turn up when something else of equal interest will be taking place next week.

You may ask, why does it matter? There’s no harm done.

It matters because events cost. They cost precious time and money. There are literally £thousands wasted from precious NHS budgets. So we have to ask the question why?

Why do people register for events and not bother to turn up?

Whilst working last year for one of the NHS’s 15 Academic Health Science Networks, I discovered an alarming figure, that 30-40% of those registered to attend the events I was organising would not turn up. This meant that over a third of my budget was wasted. After conducting a general canvas of those ‘no shows’ the answer was clear – other priorities had popped up last minute. I guess you can’t argue with that, but can you do anything about it?

Is there anything that event organisers can do to minimise drop out?

I believe there are a few things we can do to reduce no shows. Firstly, understanding people’s motivation to register for an event is key. Workers in the health sector are busy, they have to justify their time out so they must have thought it a good idea to register and were planning to prioritise. The issue therefore is about keeping that event as a priority above other things that ‘pop’ up. How do we do this? We must keep them engaged, feeding them with updates via a structured approach of communication leading up to the event. The communication should explain why they should still attend and ensure they recognise the benefit, whether that be education (CPD), networking or business opportunity.

Can we do anything else to prepare for the no shows?

I say yes! But you will need to gamble.

  • Overbook the delegates.

  • Under order the catering and printing (perhaps time to make those resources available on-line)

  • Threaten no show fees – and this needs to be more than a fiver!

  • Make them feel guilty! Tug on the heart strings by saying – please remember this event is only possible through funding, help us to minimise costs and wastage by telling us well if advance if you cannot make the event, or send along a colleague to fill your place. Don’t be a dropout! Every place costs…

I have tried all of these and they work – they will save costs, they will reduce the no shows, but they will not stop all ‘no shows’.

Can we learn from other sectors who have experienced ‘no shows’?

I’d like to hear about other’s experiences and solutions – hoping to save the NHS money and still organise great, well attended events.

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