You are organizing a series of fantastic events for your staff. Maybe knowledge sessions with the leaders in your industry, maybe strategy sessions with senior executives of your own company. You know your people are committed and engaged. They are curious, too. You know people would benefit a bunch — if only they’d show up!
It’s so interesting, so how come there is only a handful of people in the room?
In startups, and in great companies, that’s probably because people are so passionate about what they are doing. They are busy, too. After all, there seems to be way too many meetings anyway. Here is what you can do to boost participation. Six tricks that cost little and make a huge difference.
Trick #1: Make it visible
No matter how many hundreds of emails we receive each day, we still tend to send yet another email with the invitation and expect people to spot it and react to it. If you are organizing a meeting and you want people to prioritize it over their other agenda items, make sure they can see it EVERYWHERE: in the lift, on the screen in the lobby, in cafeterias, on the doors of meeting rooms. It doesn’t have to be super-sophisticated. A simple colorful A4 invitation with the topic along with a photo and a short bio of the speaker will do.
Trick #2: Get buy-in of managers
Your teams are meeting, regularly or ad hoc, so why not to ask managers to pitch the event at their meetings? Make sure that you can sell your meeting to the managers though, they need to be convinced about it’s usefulness first in order to be able (and want to) pitch the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) to their teams.
Trick #3: Bring a friend
Ask people for feedback at the end of the first session. Is the feedback positive? It should be, you said your series of sessions are super-important and highly valuable. So make sure you leverage the experience of the people who showed up for the first one. Ask them to come to the next occurrence. Ask them to spread the word. Ask them to bring a colleague along.
Trick #4: Offer food
This trick is the only one that requires a bit of funding. Attract people to your session by making it a nice gathering with breakfast, lunch, snack, pizza, donuts, you get it. People who are busy and focused on their deliverables are more likely to come if they “save time” by eating in the gathering — they would have to go grab something anyway, right?
Plus, it gives you an opportunity to call for action in your meeting request: “Please let us know if you are coming so that we order enough food for everyone.” Psychologically, people who accepted the meeting knowing there was food bought for them are likely to feel obliged to come.
Trick #5: Consider timing
This one is tricky. On one hand, you want to plan the session for peak hours when most of the people are in the office. On the other hand, you don’t want to disrupt operations. Still, there is no point in planning a session with the breakfast at 8AM when people are used to starting at nine. Even if they planned to come, they are likely to forget the exception. So the silver bullet here is to factor customer peak hours in but plan for core hours.
If you run a global company, you need to consider the best intersection of the time zones involved, and you may want to avoid Fridays completely. Watch out for holidays in the countries involved!
Trick #6: Send a reminder
This one is easy and quick. Send a reminder in the afternoon before the breakfast session, one hour before the lunch one (so that people who didn’t check their calendar don’t leave for lunch), half an hour during other times of the day.
The Unconditional Trick: WIIFM?
Actually, this one is the key to success. I have implied you did it in the beginning but I want to emphasize it in the end.
Ask yourself a question: “What’s in it for them?” before even starting to plan. If you do have a rock solid reason, state it as a first thing in the invitation.
If you don’t, however, cancel the meeting right away. There will be less meetings and people will be more willing to come to the important ones (for them).