3 Ways to Guarantee Good Attendance at Your Project Kickoff Workshops

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Yeah, I know the feeling.  You’ve just sent out the invitations for your project kickoff workshop and already you’re getting responses that tell you that you’re going to struggle to have a successful session:

  • Some people flat out turn you down.  You should like these people because at least they had the courtesy to tell you to your face.
  • Others send you a tentative response.  These people are hard work because you rarely get any further reply that explains why they may not be able to attend. Come the big day though and they will most likely not turn up.
  • Worst of all are those who simply don’t reply at all. You never know where you are with them and your only option is to approach them to find out whether they are coming or not.

If poor attendance and last-minute drop outs give you a headache here are three ways to virtually guarantee that people show up when you invite them.

Get your project sponsor to send out the invites

Some people respond better when someone senior to them sends out the invitation, so ask your sponsor to send them.  Give your sponsor all of the information that you would have sent out. More importantly, give them the text of the invitation so they only have to cut and paste it in.  Most important, get your sponsor to attend your workshop and include this information in the invite. It doesn’t mean that people won’t have other meetings to attend, but some will say yes because they won’t want to upset someone more senior to them.   As for the others, their response will give both you and your sponsor the information that you need to decide whether to reschedule your workshop or get the remainder to rearrange other appointments.

Provide food!

Before you laugh me out of the house, let me tell you that in my experience there is almost nothing more powerful than good food as a way of encouraging people to come to your workshop. I used to make a point of bringing biscuits and fruit to my project meetings and have lost count of the number of times that people have thanked me for considering them, even if they didn’t eat anything.

Bringing food to your workshop does a number of powerful things:

It gives people no reason to worry about whether they will get a lunch break that day.  The average worker in this country spends just a matter of minutes grabbing lunch between meetings, literally sandwiched between appointments. Knowing that they will have a chance to get a proper meal comes as a refreshing change and this reduces their stress levels. It also shows that you care about them.  When you buy someone lunch you’re telling them that their wellbeing matters to you.  People appreciate that, even if they don’t say so at the time.  You also give them a chance to meet and mingle with their peers.  It amazes me the number of times that the people who work together fail to get together over lunch or a cup of coffee.  It completely unfashionable now to go out for a drink during the working day, or after work. That’s such a shame because it limits the opportunities that people have to get to know each other. By including lunch in your workshops you give people the chance to connect.

The small cost of providing a buffet is repaid many times over through better working relationships.

Give them certainty that your meeting is worth attending

Invites from your sponsor and the promise of free food are good reasons to come to your workshop.  However, the most powerful and persuasive reason of all is the knowledge that your workshop is well organised, they will personally benefit from attending and they will have fun!

I know that most people complain about the high number and low quality of meetings that they have.  Some people will do almost anything to get out of them because they are a complete waste of time much of the time.

Meetings are not the problem.  Poorly planned and poorly run meetings are the problem. When your invitees know that the investment of their time will be rewarded they won’t hesitate to hit the accept button.

I once overcame the objections of a team leader who complained that he didn’t have time to attend a workshop that I had organised.  He asked me to send him the project documentation so that he could read it in his own time.

I declined to do so, pointing out that:

  • the purpose of the workshop was to plan the project as a team and that;
  • the outcome of the workshop would be the documentation that he was expecting, and;
  • therefore he could either spend his time in the workshop trying to make it a success, or he could spend even more time afterwards trying to deal with the consequences of his not being involved at the point where he could add maximum value.

He came to the workshop and as a result he was able to influence the overall approach and the detailed planning.  Better still he was able to meet with a number of his peers who he had a frosty relationship with.  Three hours later they were not firm friends but they were able to resolve long-standing issues that had affected previous projects.

The next time I invited him to a workshop he didn’t hesitate.  His response was one of the first I received.


So the next time you organise a planning workshop remember that if you want to get the best possible attendance you should plan your agenda in advance, provide plenty of food and drink and send the invites through your sponsor. The only real problem that you’ll have to worry about now is what to do with any leftover food!

“3 Ways to Guarantee Good Attendance at Your Project Kickoff Workshops” © 2014 Bryan Barrow