The seats were empty, there was tumbleweed in the aisles… we’ve all had that one disastrous event where no one turned up.
It’s an excruciating experience, especially if you have other stakeholders to answer to. You probably wished the ground would just open up and swallow you, but don’t let one bad experience put you off from organising events.
Here we look at 10 positive steps you can take to bounce back from an unsuccessful event, how you can recover both emotionally and financially, and get everyone back on side.
1. Analyse what went wrong
Failure is hugely valuable if you can learn from it. If you can understand what you could have done differently, you don’t have to feel negatively about what happened. Learning through your mistakes is often the best way as it means you won’t let it happen again.
Sometimes events fail for reasons outside of our control such as an unexpected tube strike or freak weather, however what you can learn from this is the importance of having a contingency plan. With proper planning you can mitigate for almost any circumstances.
2. Communicate with your stakeholders
The worst thing you can do after a poorly performing event is put your head in the sand and pretend everything was fine. If you do not recognise the disappointing result and provide an explanation, those involved will feel rightly peeved.
Putting up your hands and saying “we messed up” will earn you more respect than you think. If you explain what went wrong, why it happened and the steps you’re taking to ensure it doesn’t happen again, you’ll limit damage to your event brand as much as possible.
3. Take a break
After a financial loss it’s necessary to take some time to regroup and restock resources. So put your short term focus on earning some cash. This could mean going back to your day job, freelancing or consulting or even working on someone else’s event to gain extra experience.
If you have debt to repay, make this a priority before starting on another event. It’s important to protect your reputation with suppliers to avoid becoming blacklisted. And it’s just sensible to start planning any new event on solid financial footing, so aim to get some cash in the bank first.
4. Find a mentor
An event failure can really shake your confidence, so try to find someone with more experience who can support you. You can check in with your mentor at each stage of your event to get their feedback on your plans and progress. And you can turn to them if you’re ever in doubt.
If you’re unable to find one person to mentor you, seek the advice of the many. You can use event industry groups or forums to reach out to other organisers. Most organisers will have had events that didn’t go exactly how they wanted them to, so these networks can be great places to go to for moral support.
5. Reflect on what you did do well
While it’s important to face up to failure, it doesn’t mean it should overshadow everything. Only focusing on what went wrong can be hugely demoralising and leave you demotivated to try again. Therefore, you should also list down anything about your event and your personal performance you were pleased with.
Maybe you secured great deals with suppliers, so you know you’re good at negotiation, or perhaps you wrote some great marketing copy, but just didn’t get enough people reading it? Play to your strengths and seek help from others to support you in your weaker areas.
6. Take the opportunity to innovate
When an event fails it can provide the perfect opportunity to have a rethink. Perhaps you’ve been stuck in a rut, doing the same old thing year after year and people are getting bored? Maybe they’ve defected to that shiny, new competitor event?
This is your chance to shake things up! Look around you at what others are doing, conduct some research among your target audience and get inspired. Maybe it’s time to announce the closure of that particular event, but you can return to market with an exciting new one?
7. Offer an olive branch
When you start planning another event following a failure it can be embarrassing to go looking for support from the same attendees, exhibitors and sponsors you let down last time. How can you convince them to trust you again?
The answer is to put your money where your mouth is. You can demonstrate confidence in your event by contributing your own funds towards subsidising discounts for those who lost out previously. Make them an offer they can’t refuse in order to win them over and create a feeling of goodwill.
8. Team up
Can’t face the prospect by going it alone a second time? Split the responsibility and double your expertise by partnering with another person or organisation. By pooling your resources and experience you can improve your chances of a successful event.
What’s more, you’ll benefit from having someone else to bounce off, a second set of eyes to sense check your strategy and an extended network to draw on. Just be sure to formally establish the terms of your partnership at the outset so it’s clear what you expect of each other.
9. Try a lower risk event
We all know you shouldn’t try to run before you can walk. So if you were somewhat ambitious before, consider scaling right back. Try a small event that requires minimal outlay and build from there. Growing organically, little by little, can lead to long term success and is far less risky than jumping in the deep end at the outset.
You can also lower your risk of failure by selling tickets to your event instead of making them available for free. Although you might perceive free entry to be the best way to maximise your audience, the no-show rate can be as high as 50%. It therefore makes it very hard to guarantee attendee numbers.
10. Set milestones
Define what success looks like for your next event and you ensure a much higher chance of reaching it. This means setting targets for ticket sales, exhibition space sales and sponsorship at the different stages of your event timeline.
By monitoring your progress all the way, you’ll get plenty of warning if there’s a problem. Using a ticketing platform like Eventbrite you can easily access your data and pull reports so you know exactly where you’re at. If you fail to reach a crucial milestone you can react, thus avoiding unpleasant surprises on the day.
Even the most successful people have experienced failure – in fact, by prompting them to change course, it can be the very reason for their success. So don’t let one event failure stop you in your tracks; pick yourself up, look at what you’ve learned and try again!