Learning experience No-Shows

How to minimize the number of no-shows in a virtual event?

The challenge

A person who registers for an event and does not attend it is referred to as a no-show.
No-shows seem to be more common in virtual events. One of the possible reasons for this behavior is that people feel a lower level of commitment when they do not have to make additional arrangements (e.g. incur travel and accommodation costs). Free online events are also easier to skip. In other words, there are no sunk costs for not attending. Sometimes people are not sure that they would be able to attend but register anyways to reserve the possibility of going in case nothing more urgent shows up in their calendar. Another reason is that participants might experience technical difficulties accessing the event.
No-shows are more likely to occur in one-time events (e.g. an online seminar or an online lecture). In recurring events, and events where the attendees have already formed collaborative relations and established trust (e.g. steering committee meetings, team meetings), no-shows are less common.    
No-shows are a challenge because having a good estimate of the number of expected participants is important for the planning of online events (contrary to the often-held belief that additional attendees of online events do not incur additional costs). Having an accurate estimate of the number of attendees can be relevant, for example, if the license of the video-conferencing platform has a limit on the maximum number of participants. It is also relevant if the event is designed to include breakout groups and the organisers have to engage moderators and note-takers for each breakout group or spend time assigning the participants to groups according to some characteristic. Sometimes it is simply not worth the investment to organise and hold an event for a small number of participants. Finally, it is demotivating for the organisers and the speakers if the event is not as well attended as originally expected. 

The solution

There are a number of methods to minimize the number of no-shows depending on the reason for not showing up and the type of event. They are described in greater detail below.

Area of application:

online training, seminar, lecture, conference


No-shows due to difficulties finding the access information

One method is to send reminders as the event approaches. Sending a reminder immediately before the start of an event (e.g. 15 min before the event) could be especially effective as the link to the event will be on top of the participant’s inbox and therefore easy to find.

Another method to help participants easily find the access details is to send a calendar invitation so that the event can be directly integrated in the calendar of the participant. Including the link to the event in the calendar invitation will also make it easier for the attendee to join when the time comes. Monitor the acceptance notifications and if appropriate, follow up with those that have not confirmed.

Finally, listing a contact person in case of technical difficulties could also be helpful to avoid no-shows due to technical problems.


Training series

In case of training that takes place over multiple sessions, several methods can be pursued to decrease the number of no-shows:

  • Announce the dates and times of all training sessions from the beginning
  • Announce that participants will receive an attendance certificate if they are present in e.g. more than 90 percent of the sessions
  • Invest time during the first session to build a social connection to the participants and to build a community feeling in the group. Signal that their participation matters. Set the expectation that everyone attends and joins on time
  • Make an effort to identify personal points of interest in the training (e.g. through a questionnaire) and cater to them throughout the training in order to keep up engagement levels
  • Ask participants to notify the organisers over email in advance in case they will not be able to attend a session
  • Use the traditional distribution channels: go through the local program coordinator or through the management level so that the participants get a clear signal that they are allowed to or encouraged to attend


Other cases

When advertising the event, make it sound exclusive (e.g. by invitation only) so that participants are enticed to join.

Sometimes people register for an event even though they are not sure they will attend. Adding a “maybe” option in the registration form could be an indication for the organisers that these are potential no-shows.

Finally, it should be acknowledged that, statistically speaking, there might always be a certain number or a proportion of no-shows. Therefore, overbooking an event, i.e. letting more people register than the target number of participants, can compensate for the no-shows.

Tools and technical aspects

  • If appropriate given the type of event, use a survey tool (e.g. DFNconf Terminplaner) to determine the dates and times that work for most people
  • When sending the invitation, send a calendar appointment containing also the access link


Suzana Lange

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