When conference organizers count people, the number they care about most is registered paying attendees; they track that every day as the conference approaches. Suppose you are an outsider, considering attending or sponsoring or exhibiting at the conference, and you inquire as to the likely attendance. You will never be given the real number; instead you will be told a number which is at least twice that, and usually higher. This is justified by including trade-show exhibitors’ staff, the conference organizer’s own people, PR folk and journalists, the food service crew, and is basically pulled out of a monkey’s butt. Just thought you’d like to know.



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From: Xris (Jul 29 2010, at 23:18)

I think we should start calling that the MBM ("Monkey Butt Multiplier").

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From: Jonathan Hartley (Jul 30 2010, at 02:07)

Hey. I've no doubt that generally, you're right. But *never* is too extreme.

I can personally attest that for smaller, community-run non-profit conferences, such as EuroPython, attendance 400, which happened two weeks ago, this isn't the case.

Even with such tiny attendance, we still attract sponsorship from Google and Oracle, and from smaller local companies. I like to imagine that sponsors are still interested because the smaller head-count is offset by the fact that there is a higher density of 'quality' attendees than at an massive event like Java One. Nobody is at Europython because their boss told them to be there, or to reluctantly help man the booth. Everyone is there out of a desire to participate in a fabulous community.

In my mind conferences like this are like the smaller, boutique music festivals that are popular in England nowadays (and I presume elsewhere too.) Glastonbury may still be the biggest music festival in the world, and it has a lot of characteristics which make it unique and special because of that. But all the cool kids are at the festivals you never heard of.

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From: John Cowan (Jul 30 2010, at 06:29)

For public demonstrations, on the other hand, the MBM (as reported by the MSM, who tend to get it from the police) tends to be anything from 0.5 down to 0.1.

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From: Eric Meyer (Jul 30 2010, at 09:22)

Point of information: at An Event Apart, we <em>never</em> exaggerate our expected attendance when talking to potential sponsors. (At AEA we don't have an exhibit hall, so we don't talk to exhibitors.) Potential attendees, on the very rare occasions they ask about attendance at all, are told the approximate sell-out number and whether we think we're likely to reach it.

Per Jonathan Hartley, this may be a difference between "small" conferences—AEA is in the 300-500 range, depending on venue—and Great Big Trade Shows. But we don't deserve to be tarred with the same brush as the GBTSs, because we really do things differently, and usually on purpose.

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From: Sander (Aug 26 2010, at 08:15)

Another "small conference" datapoint here. For Fronteers (a front-end conference in the Netherlands), we list the actual expected number of attendees on the sponsorship page as "Expected visitors: 300–400" - http://fronteers.nl/congres/2010/sponsorships - where we're internally budgetting on 350, and might still sell out at 450. Meanwhile potential sponsors can even see the real number of current attendees (with a few days lag) at http://fronteers.nl/congres/2010/attendees

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