By Diane Conklin
The question that comes up a lot regarding events is do I or do I not give attendees a schedule?
The question to answer is why would you not give a schedule out? Is there a valid reason why you don't want your attendees to know what is coming up next and what to expect from your event?
Most often, the concept of keeping attendees in the room for speakers is the reason this becomes an issue. People argue that if an attendee has heard a speaker before, or doesn't feel that the topic is pertinent to them, they will leave. Honestly, people are going to do this anyway, whether they have a schedule or not. The difference is going to be when they leave.
The question you have to answer is would you rather people not come at all to that portion of your event or get up and leave in the middle of a presentation when they realize they don't want to sit there and listen anymore. Regardless of audience size, it can be more distracting to have people get up while a speaker is presenting, excuse themselves to the people around them as they make their way to the isle and make their way to the back of the room where they have to open doors and are rustling around in an effort to leave the room.
Another thing to consider if you opt not to provide a schedule, your guests are going to be asking you and your staff a lot of questions. They'll want to know who's speaking next, what's going to be discussed, what time they need to be back in their chairs and so on. When you multiply the questions you're going to get by the number of guests attending your event, you might agree that having a schedule in the hands of your attendees might be a lot easier for your guests, your staff and everyone involved.
In some ways, this comes down to giving your audience the opportunity to act like adults. Adults can decide for themselves whether they want to be in the room or not. If they have the information in hand they can make that decision before they even sit down. There are fewer questions to answer about the event schedule and more questions about what really matters - the content and what they're there to learn.
The thing to be aware of is how you present the schedule. If you're concerned about keeping the room full consider providing a less-detailed schedule. For example, instead of saying at 8:00am a specific speaker is speaking, at 10:30am a different speaker is speaking, and so on, you could just say from 8:00-9:30am there is a general session, from 9:30-10:00am there's going to be a break, from 10:00 to 11:30am there's another general session. This way your attendees will have at least some kind of idea about what's going on and when they can expect to break.
Most of the time, if you give your attendees a schedule before the event, you email or mail them a copy of the schedule, don't expect them to bring the schedule with them. They will forget to bring it. You will want to have copies available at the event.