While not an exact science I went out and asked the Java Leader Community how did they deal with the problem. Here are some suggestions compiled from the list.
Why is it important?Because I say so! Kidding!
The biggest issues are that there is food costs (that might need to be fronted by the group leadership), room costs and capacity (A meeting of 20 people might only need a whiteboard and some chairs, that will not work with a meeting of 100 people), and sponsorship agreements ('Yes, every meeting we have 100 people coming! of course of course, um... these 20... are just the beginning, I'm sure they are just stuck in traffic or something...really....')
The first part of planning your meeting is to expect people just to not show up. If the event is free, and is easy to register, one can conservatively prepare for a 70% attendance. If, for example only 60% shows up, then it really becomes only a 10% no-show instead of the original 40%.
Remind, remind, remind
A week before the meeting, send a reminder to your group about the event. Sometimes people seem to register and 'forget' about the event. As you get closer, send another reminder a day before the event. (Meetup allows this fairly easily).
If the Event is full, then ask for "help"
Another way to help control no-shows for completely full events is to send an email telling people to un-register if not attending. A special tip is to make the Subject message grab your attention, like "We are full, please unregister if you aren't coming". That way the message doesn't get lost in the member's mailbox.
Overbook your event
Just like Airlines overbook their flights, you can overbook your meeting :). Plan for that 70% attendance, and allow registration for those extra seats.
Don't announce the event too early
Today, the human race doesn't plan further ahead than two weeks. If you announce the event too early, you'll get people signing up when they really don't know what their plans are. They tend to forget they signed-up for the event and will cross-schedule with something else. If you keep it within two weeks people will usually remember the meeting (and make newer plans accordingly)
Bargain on your Pizza
You have 100 people registered, and you want to control your no-show cost. Well, once you start placing order (like 10 pizzas), negotiate a good price. As an example Gray Herter can get Papa Johns to cough up specialty pizzas for 10$ each (they usually order 20). So if there is pizza wasted, at least is not as bad as paying full retail price.
You can try also calling ahead and giving a rough estimate of pizza you need, and as the event starts, call and confirm an actual number. It seems that some pizza places are flexible enough that this is not an issue.
Or don't have Pizza but Books!
A trick from CEJUG is that they ask sponsors to give them books for their attendees. The promise of a book is much alluring than pizza and they love it (since all our members love anything Java), plus they get it to take something home.
Watch that weather channel, and topic
Bruno Souza shares that weather plays a role in the number of now-shows. He plans for a 50% attendance,
- If it rains, he expects less people
- If it's an intro topic, he expects more people (seems like people dropout less often if the topic is introductory)
- If it's in a remote area (out in the woods), he expects more people (since Java presentations are not as frequent in remote areas, people tend to show up for the opportunity)
The best way to really reduce no-show numbers reported is to charge for the event. Put the money where the registration is! Bruno reports that once you start paying your no-show percentage drops from 50% to 20%. For paid events he will still hand out free passes for speaker guests and/or sponsors (and for those free tickets he still expects 50% no shows)
It's always about the community :)
Live happens, and while sometimes we wish things are always the way it seems to be, when it's not we just have to juggle it. With these tips at least you avoid some of the (sometimes costly) mistakes we all went through and prepare better for your group and/or organization. Hope this helps! (it did for me!).
Special thanks to the Jug Leaders in no particular order (Hildeberto, Frank N, Csaba Toth, Linda van der Pal, Gray Herter, Carl Trusiak, Alexis Lopez, Bruno Souza) for the tips!
Chicago JUG Community Leader