26 ways to rescue a failing event

rescue a failing event

Here’s 26 practical ways to help course correct an event that isn’t going to plan, and increase event registrations to get it back on top.

1. Check you’re executing properly against your original plan


It’s easy to get distracted from the original event plan when you’re juggling a million and one tasks.  If your event seems off track, it’s worth checking your original roadmap and ensure you’re following it properly – it should give you some good ideas about where you could find some ‘quick wins’ and how to get back on track.

2. Look at what your competitors are doing (and copy them)

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so why not make your competitors blush by using some of their best ideas to promote your event too.  Reverse engineer their SEO strategy.  See which speakers / topics are resonating.  Study how they use social media.  Then apply what you’ve learned to your marketing.

3. Test your messaging

Gut feelings are not the solution if you need to boost your event.  Instead, test the impact of your messaging to learn what is working and what isn’t.  Use A/B headline testing in your emails. Look at which types of headlines get most shares on your blog. Spend a little money on Google Ads to test what copy converts.   Then focus your resources on the winners.

4. Check your website for ‘leaks’

Have you checked to see if your website is the culprit in losing you sales?  Check Google Analytics to see if you’re getting a lot of traffic but not much conversion, and then apply some Conversion Rate Optimisation techniques to improve your results.  You can learn more about how to do this here.

5. Rethink or expand your target audience

It may be that you need to apply a mid-course correction to your whole marketing plan.  If your target audience was originally Sales Directors in ‘Big Pharma’, but you see an unusual proportion of Sales Managers in ‘Medical Devices’ signing up, why not adjust your marketing and content to more obviously target this group who are clearly willing to pay?

6. Talk – and listen – to delegate sales to understand the problem


The delegate sales team are your front-line, speaking to prospective customers all day, every day.  Chances are, they can help tell you what’s missing from your event and why people are reticent of signing up.  Talk to them early and often to find problem areas and adjust your event accordingly.  It doesn’t hurt to show the DS team you value their input and make them feel they’re making a difference.

7. ‘Hijack’ trending topics in business news

Often, by the time an event is a few weeks away, the content and research is several months old, and there are new and more exciting stories in the consciousness of your attendees.  Keep some space in your programme to add fresh, relevant topics and trending speakers for a last-minute boost of on-trend credibility.

8. Create some news!

If there’s no obvious shiny new thing in the press to ‘hijack’, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Take advantage of the quiet and create some news that promotes your event by adding a high-profile speaker at the last minute, conducting and sharing interesting interviews or announcing a venue change due to ‘unprecedented’ demand.

9. Tap into your social network

As well as getting on the news agenda, you should be focusing efforts on leveraging the social networks frequented by your prospective delegates.  They can be a goldmine of sharing, positive word-of-mouth and audience engagement. You can learn how to be more effective in your social media efforts with this great BritePaper.

10. Don’t forget about last year’s attendees

If this is a repeat event, spend some time trying to woo last year’s attendees, or at least understand why they’re not rebooking again this year.  Maybe they were underwhelmed, but chances are you just haven’t targeted them as well as you could do.  We have an 8-step guide to winning back repeat attendees here.

11. Energise your speakers 

Speakers are one of the main draws for your event, so you have to energise them and encourage them to tell people about it.  Their word-of-mouth will have a significant impact on your sales if you can get them promoting the event.  For more tips on how, check out our post here.

12. Encourage referrals

Get Speakers to Promote Your Event

Along with speakers, your attendees (and the associated networking) are the second major draw for your event.  Why not give them reasons to share your event with their network too?  You could offer them an incentive for every confirmed attendee they refer, and give their referrals a discount too for a win-win-win situation all around.

13. Work your sponsors / exhibitors

Your sponsors and exhibitors should be nearly as committed to making the event a success as you are.  They’ve paid their money and attached their brand to it, so why not ask them for help in promoting to their network?  Do they have lists of people they want to meet that you can email? Are they talking about it on social media? Their active support could make all the difference.

14. Focus on the VIPs to create a ‘pull’ effect

If you’re struggling to build early momentum, you definitely need to create that first critical mass of VIPs.  Think of the top names in your industry you’d want there (that aren’t speaking) and invite them for free, ideally with one ask – that they spread the word to their network.  Even if they won’t actively promote their presence there, you can, by sharing your delegate list to build social proof.

15. Prioritise your resources: focus on what works and not fixing what doesn’t.

Too often, all your energy and time is spent trying to make things work that simply don’t add enough value (maybe it’s a marketing channel or a sales message).  If something isn’t showing return, forget about it and focus on the 20% that delivers 80% of your return.  You’ll soon see a difference in the performance of your event.

16. Create urgency with targeted discounts and incentives

This doesn’t mean mass-emails and press releases about extended early birds.  They just sound desperate.  Rather, think about ‘added value’ experiences such as an exclusive networking event or dinner limited to 20 people, then invite your top 100 targets on a first-come-first served basis.  You don’t lose credibility from indiscriminate discounting but you still create the urgency you need.

17. Run a competition

Competitions can be really effective ways of driving interest to your event.  The key is to make the prize worthwhile.  Think of a weekend stay after the event or tickets to a top sporting/cultural event. Perhaps you could tier it so you have a decent prize for entering (to get their contact details) and a grand prize (but with only those booked to the event eligible).

18. Don’t show stress (people can sense it)

This is a less tangible but vitally important tip.  If things aren’t going to plan, do your best not to stress, because you’ll involuntarily communicate that to everyone around you.  It will subtly affect your conversions, the copy you write and your body language.  Try to remain confident, and chances are you’ll convey a ‘winning’ message that helps get the event back on track.

19. Ask colleagues for help and ideas

Remember that you’re rarely alone when things look bad, so don’t suffer through it in silence.  Reach out to colleagues, peers or even friends to get a fresh perspective and new ideas.  They may just ask the question that jogs a Eureka moment out of you.  If nothing else, sharing will help dial down your stress and rebuild confidence.

20. Don’t forget Eventbrite!


Eventbrite is designed to optimise so much of the above for event organisers – we offer incisive reporting to help you figure out where to focus your time and effort, social media integration, a discovery platform on web and mobile, best-in-class technology to improve conversion rates, and a whole lot more to help increase event registrations!

So why not take a few minutes and get your event listed through our platform to see what a difference it can make?


Sometimes, you’ll know the writing is on the wall and there’s just nothing you can do to hit your original goals.  When that happens, it’s important to tackle the situation head-on so you control the situation.

Here’s a few tips for managing a failing event properly in this situation.

21. Reset expectations early

If you finally accept there’s nothing you can do to hit your original goals, it’s important to communicate this as soon as possible.  By confiding in your team, sponsors and speakers, you should be able to win their support in making the event as good as it can be.  This is definitely preferable to staying quiet and giving them a nasty shock on the day.

22. Have a clear explanation


In order to win their support, you need to clearly explain why the original expectations won’t be met, what you’ve done to try and rectify the situation, and why it won’t happen again in the future (lessons learned).  If you can confidently convey these three things, you should keep their trust and respect for the future.

23. Embrace the turnout by tweaking the event

If your numbers are smaller than expected, take a creative look at how you can turn it to your advantage.  Perhaps you can introduce a more intimate and effective networking experience, a more interactive session with the speakers, or a more personal service for your sponsors to meet the key people who are there.

24. Go the extra mile onsite

If the final results are a little disappointing on paper, you can try to make up for it onsite by creating an amazing and upbeat onsite experience.  Work hard to energise the room, impress with the catering, invest in the branding and engage with everyone you can.  The budget might look worse-for-wear, but if you want to grow next year, it’s a hit you need to take.

25. Get negotiating with the venue

Business realities may demand that you can’t take a big financial hit and double- down on the onsite experience without making some sacrifices.  In these circumstance you need to find cost savings, and probably with your biggest cost-centre, the venue.  Can you reduce R&B spend? Release some rooms? Squeeze into a smaller space? Again, if you work with them early on this, they should be able to help reduce your spend, rather than lose your event altogether.

26. Consider postponing

Sometimes you can’t put lipstick on a pig, and running the event may not be in the best interest of anyone.  If things look that bad, consider postponing the event, gathering as much evidence as possible about why things haven’t been working, and come up with a new plan.  If you present it well enough, you could still keep your supporters on board, and run a successful event as planned in the near future.


Do you have experience turning around under-performing events?  What else would add to this list?  We’d love to hear from  you in the comments below!


About author View all posts Author website

Mark Walker

Hi, I'm the Head of Content for Eventbrite UK and Ireland.

I love writing (and reading) about events, marketing, technology and entrepreneurship.

I'm also a recovering #eventprof, having spent the first 7 years of my career running large scale international conferences and exhibitions. (Of course I relapse all the time and enjoy running content-led events for Eventbrite too.)

Thanks for reading and get in touch with any feedback you have at ukeditor@eventbrite.com.