“Why don’t people attend our meetings.”The topic may come up in many different ways, but it boils down to the same thing. Members or the public have done something horribly wrong — they failed (notice the blame, indicating failure) to attend the last (fill in the blank.) It may be a dance, rally, seminar, trade show, hearing, just about anything. You or your friends put out a notice, plain and simple, and yet the lemmings failed to show up at the appointed hour with their tongues hanging out.
We know that this sort of thing happens all the time, but we are not talking right now about what kind of event happened (or rather failed to happen). It could be any type of meeting. But let us now return to the scene of the crime — the decision that was made to hold the meeting in the first place. The culprit could be an advisory board, a committee, a government agency, or just about any group that orders things to happen and fails.
The event needs to be analyzed, of course, but first, the board itself must look within itself to make some determinations so that this failed meeting won’t keep replaying. That is really more of the problem. Look, many groups hold events, and nobody comes. But when it happens over and over, it’s time to do some self-introspection, analysis, and deep thinking.
Let’s take them one at a time. First, we have to ask: “Is the organization itself necessary?”
This sounds like an end run in a way because it blames the whole organization in its very purpose for the failure of a single event. But, actually, some organizations grow old and useless (not that they always have to go hand in hand), and their original purpose has either changed or been fulfilled. Sometimes, the people who founded the group are long gone (dead, retired, lost interest, been arrested, whatever), and technology or changing demographics has “repurposed” the meeting, or, more likely, has rendered the purpose of the group obsolete.
An organization that serves no purpose — that cannot draw on a vigorous group of people to carry out its goals is, plainly, unnecessary. In other words, if people aren’t available to help out, to get the word out, to strong-arm friends, to scour the countryside, to develop lively interest, then, my friend, you should look within to see if such a cut of human being actually exists in your area. If it doesn’t, then think about disbanding or changing the organization to carry out the goals that were originally sought.
But, in many cases, this is impossibe. If you are talking about a religious or political organization, or a group that has a national charter, and you must carry on somehow, then you have to look elsewhere to entice people to your events. In other words, you have to shoulder on.
If that is the case, you don’t have to look too far for the basic reasons that people just don’t want to come out on a snowy evening, or rainy day, or a blazingly hot afternoon. As a matter of fact, people in general nowadays need of lot of encouragement — or feel a strong need — to leave their home, perhaps miss dinner, and attend a meeting. You might say that, in days past, meetings were much easier to populate. In those days, there was no internet, and people did not need much of a reason to get out. But that can’t the the full answer because there are meetings going on in present times that are packed to the gills.
So what is your group doing wrong? Ironically, it may be easier to figure it out here than to go to the tried-and-true way of throwing the question open to the board membership. If the question comes up at a meeting (which it always seems to do), everyone in the meeting is instantly considered an expert.
“We didn’t send out enough mailers,” says one brilliant member.
“Our online presence is the pits,” says another.
“Two months is not enough time to announce a meeting,” said a third, who would rather see meetings scheduled a year in advance.
Sometimes, one or two realistic answers come along, and the group all nods. Then it promptly forgets to follow the new plan because no one wants to take the time to carry it out.
If any of this sounds familiar, think a bit about why your meetings are meet-less. It’s not fun sitting around a table, staring at the same six or seven faces, meeting after meeting, year after year. The only thing that changes is the date — and your hair.
So, what is it? What makes some organizations wildly popular and others dismally boring? Why would someone pick to go to one meeting and pass up another?
The answer is importance. Importance is a crucial element in gathering up people for a meeting. Each one of the has to believe that they are attending for something very important to them or to people they know and love. A parent, for example, will attend a meeting if he or she believes that it will help the child. If it’s some sort of self-improvement, the attendee will show up only if her or she thinks that genuine benefits will accrue. No one attends meetings (or at least few do) just to bolster the attendance figures. There has to be something in that convention or trade show that is unique, interesting, and, that golden word, important.
So how does a person come to believe that a meeting is important? That’s not hard. The answer is that someone has to tell the potential attendee why it is important to attend. What is the benefit? What is going to be learned? Will the experience be deadly or a lot of fun, or, at least, will the meeting help me in some way?
The only way to convince people that a meeting is important is to explain to the potential audience why it is important. So a president of a voluntary group would be smart to use whatever communication tools there are (postal mail, email, flyers, newsletter, blog, Twitter, Facebook, personal or chain calls, anything) to inform the potential attendees why it’s important that they be there that day or evening. The best way to do this is to provide absolutely candid discussions to the “masses” about what needs to be discussed, what information will be gleaned, how much fun it will be — and why. Bring your membership into the discussion. Make the average person in it aware of the problems as well as the benefits of any meeting.
If it’s a convention, don’t discuss how patriotic it would be to attend, and how much it would help the organization. Instead, discuss some of the programs to be offered, some of the unqiue products or services that will be on display and how they fit into the current workflow. Bring them in! Let them know all about the benefits but only in terms of what problems there are to overcome.
With this attitude, the general membership will feel that the next meeting or whatever is important. No one wants to attend a fully orchestraded meeting — unless it’s a full orchestra! The average member is the person that the organization exists to serve, but the only way to do that is to involve the average person. If you look at your last meeting and then look at your organization, you should be able to see whether the membership is being drawn into the Big Discussions, is relied on to provide the fresh timber to create future board members and officers, or is in position to move the organization to the next step, whatever that may be. If you remember that no organization can exist very long if it is no longer serving the needs of its members, you will be impressed with the important of keeping all the members involved in a meaningful way.
If there is a problem with getting new members to join, discuss this with the current membership. If money is low, throw out the topic for general input. Ask any significant, except why people don’t come to meetings. Most people don’t understand why people don’t come to meetings, but they know their reason.
Email lists and Facebook pages offer an excellent method of stirring up the good kind of controversy that keeps everyone involved. If you follow these steps, you may not fill Yankee Stadium, but you will be on the road to improving your attendance and possibly keeping your organization alive and flourishing.