You know the picture – you’ve organised the venue, a local politician to attend and your staff are all on hand to answer questions – but your community doesn’t turn up.
“It must be raining!” you exclaim, but looking outside the weather is fair. “There must be football on” a colleague tells you and you realise what’s really going on, you’ve scheduled your meeting at exactly the same time as that crucial football match!
So, how can you avoid the situation next time and increase attendance at your community meetings? My eight tips are based on personal experience and learnings from the heady world of online marketing….
Tip #1 – Check the television schedule
Television schedules are published well in advance, make sure your meeting doesn’t clash with a major sporting or national event.
Tip #2 – Set an end time (and stick to it)
When people donate, whether time or money, they like it to be a finite amount. More people will attend your meetings if they are confident they can fit it in to their busy schedule.
Tip #3 – Make the objective of the meeting crystal clear
If anyone in the meeting does not understand the purpose of a meeting, they won’t come back. Set an objective in advance, and repeating it, such as writing the meeting objective at the top of the agenda.
Tip #4 – Explain why this specific meeting is important
Many people understand that community meetings in general are important but they need to be informed what’s special about this particular meeting. “This is the meeting where we set the budget for the rest of the year…”, “This is our one chance to ask for funding from this organisation”.
Tip #5 – Focus on engagement of existing attendees first, then seek new ones
This is a tip from the world of online marketing – “enagagement” – getting people interested and contributing – is more important than getting new people (known as “distribution”). Ensure that everyone who attends feels their presence at the meeting has contributed in some way. In a small meeting this might mean everyone introducing themselves and giving a point of view. In a larger meeting this might include getting everyone to vote on some issue or other.
Tip #6 – Keep reminding people
While for the organiser, your meeting might be the most important thing happening, for the attendees it is often just one thing in a very busy schedule. Send meeting reminders by email, drop letters through their door, send text messages. Don’t be afraid to remind people that the event is still on, they rarely mind! An old marketing adage called the ”Rule of Seven” states that people need to hear your message seven times before they take action!
Tip #7 – Keep your structure the same each meeting
When we read newspapers, we get confidence from knowing that the news is on the front, the features in the middle and the sports at the back. Maintaining a structure for each meeting helps people engage with it (they know “what they’re in for” each time)
Tip #8 – Understand and explain the benefits of attendance for the attendees
It might be clear to you why you need a community meeting but very often the benefit is not clear for the attendees. Spend some time to articulate “what’s in it for them” - feeling safer when walking home from the bus stop for example
I hope this is helpful, if you have any more tips to add please add them in the comments below!