Free Events Deserve Your Respect

TL;DR Version

By registering and not attending people disrespect event organizers, sponsors, and fellow attendees by not showing up and creating added cost, wasted food, and taking seats of others that would have liked to attend. Show some respect: Cancel your registration if you can not make it and don’t just show up if you didn’t register.

The Long Story

The local tech community is very fortunate to have a number of very active groups organizing a large number of free events. These include monthly evening meetings as well as special full day gathering at various venues across the region. In addition to the great content being presented, attendees are quite often provided food and beverages free of charge. Websites like make it much easier for organizers in Raleigh/Durham to promote their events which has helped to grow the awareness and attendance at these events.

Obviously these events don’t just magically happen on their own. Each requires a certain amount of planning, coordination, and typically sponsorship to make the event happen. Speakers are scheduled, venues are booked, and food is ordered. None of these are done in a vacuum. Speakers and topics are selected based on attendee interests, venues based on location and space required, and food based on expected attendance. The last two are based heavily on the organizers ability to project the expected attendance of the event.

Sites like Meetup, Eventbrite, and Event Day provide organizers with a way to list events and allow attendees to quickly and easily register or RSVP for the event. Unfortunately it may be too easy to register for an interesting event without a lot of thought or effort. With meetup, a single click lets an attendee say yes I’ll be there. That single click lets an event organizer know how large of a space is needed and how much food to order. Often when the number of attendees reaches capacity of a venue organizers will either put in the time and effort to find a larger location or cap the registrations creating a wait list potentially excluding some that would like to attend.

This all sounds great until we face the reality that a lot of people will register for an event and not show up. There’s no doubt that unexpected events happen in life beyond our control, but this post is not about that. It’s about people that register and forget, change their mind, or some other excuse and do no update their registration to reflect it. By not updating their intentions that acts of finding the correct size venue, ordering the right amount of food, and enabling all of those that what to attend becomes much more difficult. Guessing at the number of no shows creates a risk of estimating too low and getting too small of a space and not enough food, or estimating too high and having waster food, needless expense on larger venues, and potentially needlessly turning away attendees that would have shown up. If sponsors see their contributions being wasted they are going to be much less likely to contribute to future events.


[The left overs]

In the end this boils down to respect. Respect for the event organizers, the sponsors, and your fellow attendees. The small act of keeping registrations accurate has huge ramifications on these events which people need to understand. While it’s one recent event that was likely needlessly moved to a larger venue and plenty of food wasted because of registered attendees that did not show up, we see it happen over and over again at monthly meetings, Code Camps, etc resulting in added cost and waste.

Before organizers are forced to stop offering or start charging for these events, please ensure you are giving these events the respect they deserve and registering responsibly. Cancel your registration if you can not make it and don’t just show up if you didn’t register.

For Event Organizers

This is an issue for all of us that is not going to change over night. It’s something that we all need to work at to improve. Here are a few practical steps I think we can take:

  • Verify registrations at events, make drop-ins aware of the need to register and track no-show culprits
  • Share no show and waste information with attendees
  • Don’t allow registrations to early before an event
  • Send multiple reminders as events approach reminding people of the event and asking them to confirm their status
  • Don’t bother with benefits like food/beverages for attendees

For a number of events I know the solution has been to simply start charging attendees to attend which results in fewer people just not showing up.

Unfortunately there is no simple answer and a solution is going to need to involve everybody involved.