7 Crucial Mistakes That Turn Your Event Into an Attendee Nightmare (And How to Fix Them)

I am going to give you seven reasons why your attendees hate your event. You can go and hire a wicked big-time consultant who can give you the same information for roughly 8 bazillion dollars, or you can simply read on.

I am going to take a guess and say that you already know this information, you are smart, and these things are usually painfully obvious.

Although many know the faults that their events and conferences have, they always like to fall back on excuses like “It costs too much to fix”, “we cannot do that,” “no way,” “it can never be changed”…” this is what people want”….

Attendees complain they fill out surveys and let you know the problems, yet many planners do nothing. They sit on their hands and wish for the event Fairy to come and fix it all for them.

The reality is that nothing here is that difficult to fix; you simply have to do it.

Lack of Social Integration

Whether you like it or not, the world is becoming more social mediaized daily.. Some say that social media is even killing the internet.. But the internet is not your concern; you need to be where your attendees are, and they are participating in social media. I know people from the ages of 5-85 who have Facebook pages, and there is a group out there for every demographic. If you think social media is not “right” for your group, you are going to the boneyard.

  • Attendees hate it when there is no social component to an event or conference.


My friend used to work for an event that featured the same speakers, the same sponsors, and the same format every year… that was OK for a number of years when times were good. People attended because it was just what they did and what they had to do.

Attendance was always pretty steady, and sponsorship dollars were decent because sponsors go where the attendees are… it was so repetitive that the show floor plan did not change for five years. Then one day…..BAM, a competitive event, popped up with fresh speakers and a new format. No one worried; why should they bother? EVERYONE came to their event, who was going to BETRAY them and go to the competition.

The first year the competitive show opened,  attendees jumped ship like rats fleeing a burning, sinking cruise ship, and the following year, so did the sponsors; I bet you can guess what happened to the event. The demise took two years.

  • Attendees hate repetition.


Attendees hate chaos with a passion; they want to know where to go and what to do, and they do not like to look confused or be confused. They want everything in a nice orderly fashion.

Your attendees demand clear signage, straightforward programs, and clear instructions on what to expect. They want order, and you need to meet those expectations. They want to know where the queue is for badges, the bathroom, the food, and the autograph sessions. They want to know EXACTLY when the show floor opens, where they should go to get a bus, and at what time.

Walk your event and look for things that you may have missed because if you don’t, your attendees will be pissed and this is a feeling that will stick with them.

  • Attendees hate chaos.

Bad Food

Believe it or not, the food has a lot to do with your attendee’s perception of your event, almost as much as the actual content. You can have a crappy venue but have stunning, delicious food and all is forgiven and forgotten.

Food is something that every attendee remembers; it is something that every attendee discusses. Food creates memories, and nothing will sink your event like crappy food.

At the meal function, people like to talk about the event and how much they are learning, who they have seen, and what they are doing back at home…. All of this can be done over good food but serve crappy food, and your attendees won’t just talk; they will BOND.

They bond because you have given them something that they immediately share in common. Your crappy food is the topic of discussion at every table in the place. This is how attendees will now greet their new tablemates. “Hi! Can I sit here?”….” Sure you want to; the food is pretty awful”…. Whole table erupts in laughter, and they go on to discuss the food for five more minutes before they turn their claws on the rest of the event because bitching in a group is such good fun.

Seriously, put some thought into your menu. If you have limited funds, do not try and stretch the budget; go with foods that are safe, even if it means hot dogs and hamburgers…. Rule of thumb: if you cannot wow, go for safe.

  • Attendees hate bad food.

Bad Content

Did you know that your attendees are not stupid? They are brilliant! You can challenge them, and they will rise to the occasion.

Do not treat them like they are morons. Stop with the “Cat Herding 101” sessions and step up your game. The internet is where to go to get the beginners course; you need to embrace whatever industry you are in and make your event much more than a “how to get started program”.

If you are in the Cat Herding Industry, try sessions like “Herding Techniques for Mountain Valleys” or “How to Get the Cats to Corral Themselves.” Step up your game and challenge your attendees; they will reward you by being loyal and happy.

  • Attendees hate bad content.

Not Enough Staffing:

$100.00 bucks… really.. you are so cheap that you are not going to give your attendees a better experience for $100.00 bucks. That is how much it would cost you to add an extra registration person for a few hours. That is how much it would cost you to add a bartender at your evening event.  That is how much it would cost to have a human arrow answering questions.

I once worked for a for-profit conference company where the events would make 80k in profit, but the idiot boss would only allow three staff to work the events. What he failed to realize is that if the attendees had had a good experience, he would have made 300k in profit because he would have had repeat business.

Bonus* After you hire all of these staff members, put them all in the same uniform; this helps identify them. People hate having to search for a staff person. I do not care if the Senior VP of Bullshit wants to work the show floor; he can wear the same polo and tan pants as everyone else or step off to the side and let professionals work.

This is a true story. I had a client that tasked us with operating one of their trade show booths. My staff trained on the product (it was for a major electronics brand) and knew it inside and out. We were all working the booth and making great sales.

The company’s Senior  VP of Sales showed up on the floor wearing a three-piece suit and decided he could outsell (or out-lead-generate) us….. We were wearing tan pants and polos… people swarmed us, and they would not even approach him in that Brooks Brothers wanna-be-looking thing.

My team could generate leads at a 10 to  1 ratio even though he was personable and knew the product inside and out.

It was the suit; suits are for meetings, not the show floor.

  • Attendees hate it when you do not have enough staff.

Staff with Bad Attitudes and No Information:

This is a twofer! After you have enough staff, teach them what they need to know and make being nice a part of the job description. No one likes grumpy people that do not have a clue.

I hate asking questions at an event and having the staff member give me an eye roll like I am stupid. I hate having to wait more than a minute for a drink, and I hate hearing a sentence end with the words “I don’t know.”

FYI, I said “end the sentence with”, “I don’t know” is fine if it is followed by a smile and “let me see what I can do”.

Hire people that are nice and train them and if for some reason Suzie Smiles or Grinning Gary show up one day with a frown or a piss-poor attitude, send their asses home because they are going to hurt the attendee experience. Can’t send them home? Then, task them with jobs that keep them out of the front of the house.

  • Attendees hate grump-ass, uninformed people.

So, now you know some of the main reasons why attendees hate events? What are some of the lesser evils? A/V issues are something that come to mind.

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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