December 3, 2013


electromagnet: turn on the electricity and get immediate attraction
With an electromagnet, you press a button and get immediate attraction. If speakers are the magnet, filling seats can’t be difficult. Or so I thought.

There are standard ways to organize events. You have a catchy title. You show the benefits of attending. You have early bird specials. You send lots of reminders. You get sponsors. You might even have affiliates.

I knew better.
I ignored the rules.
I learned lots of things that don’t work.

The Experiment

Money 50/50: Insider Advice for Today’s Topsy-Turvy Times had:
  • a proper venue with nice refreshments (University of Toronto)
  • excellent, credible speakers (each with large followings)
  • a topic of universal importance (money)
  • a novel format (30 minute segments: 15 minute talk + 15 minute Q&A)
  • lots of interaction (Q&A and networking)
  • no sponsors (tickets priced to cover the costs)
That’s not enough to fill seats. I was advised to pick a smaller venue with 50 seats. Since I knew better, I got room for 100 to meet the anticipated demand and spread the fixed costs.

Own Network

I thought I could easily fill the seats with people in my network who support my initiatives and the cause of objective financial education. The idea was that they’d attend and invite their friends. The math works:
  • 100 attendees = 10 (core group) x 5 (their friends) x 2 (the friends of friends)
That’s before any promotion by the speakers or other parties. Might need a bigger room!

I got the core group but they weren’t very successful in inviting their friends. That’s not their fault. There wasn’t much time and the invitation content focused on the speakers without mentioning the topics. November seems like an overly busy month too.

Its better to treat second level connections as strangers and make the event description compelling. That then helps the core group invite others.

Next Time

Here’s the strategy for next time:
  1. Have more lead time: select a date two months away
  2. Confirm the venue first: last time I had the speakers first and their schedules made getting a venue more challenging
  3. Gather supporters now: ask a core group to confirm they’re attending and will bring one or more friends
  4. Crowdsource: get help from the core group on the title, descriptions, content
  5. Select speakers: they now fit the event rather than having the event fit around them
  6. Market extensively: encourage everyone involved to help spread the word


Some matters will not be resolved easily. For instance, do you make the event free, low price or charge a premium price? There are pros and cons to each. I'm still concerned about the compromises from having sponsors. The biggest fixed cost is the room and audio visual equipment.

If there is a way to get the facilities free, the big remaining cost is refreshments. For a free event, its possible to skip the refreshments all together but that cheapens the experience. There may be some way to get food sponsors who don’t want special favors such as time at the podium. I'll explore but am still tempted to charge to cover costs. Paying shows commitment. Attendees will want to get their money's worth, which means showing up. At least that's the theory.

The main lesson is to pay heed to what works. It’s okay to break the rules, but understand those rules first.


PS If you’d like to experience the next Money 50/50 event, join the mailing list.

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