by Matt Alderton | September 10, 2019
Offering incentive rates can serve as an early gauge of whether there is a need to revise your attendance estimate upwards or downwards. (Tatomm/Getty Images)
To pull off a successful meeting and event, there's at least one question you need to be able to answer above all others: How many people are going to attend? The response could impact everything from the cost of your hotel room block and the size of your meeting venue to the contents of your agenda and the amount of food waste your group will generate. If you over- or underestimate attendance, your event and its budget might go bust.

Unfortunately, you can't ascertain event attendance by looking into a crystal ball. But there is one surprising strategy you can deploy to venture a good guess, consultant William Thomson of Gallus Events suggests in a post on his event planning blog: early bird rates.

"I look at these early incentive rates and advise organisers to consider their use for four main reasons … [one of which is] they can be used to give an early indication of the likely final number of attendees," Thomson says.

If you offer an incentive for people to book early, and no one does, then you may need to revise your attendance estimate downward. "Likewise, if you have a good low price and the bookings flood in, you can up those anticipated numbers," Thomson continues.

If you have an attendance number you have to hit, but registrations are under-performing, an early bird rate also can generate the activity you need.

"I very often suggest that organisations extend their early booking rate. Organisations can do this either formally or informally," Thomson says. "A formal approach would be an announcement that, 'Our best early bird rates have been extended for 48 hours, one week, etc.' This is a great way to extend the value of the incentivised rate ... More informally, organisers can keep this rate available, using it more selectively … for example, targeting those past attendees who haven't yet booked."

Of course, you should only extend discounts when it's helpful. Concludes Thomson, "There's no point giving away cheaper tickets when you don't need to!"