Conference Metrics That Matter

“What gets measured, gets managed,” is a phrase coined by management guru Peter Drucker. For annual conferences, this is best accomplished by identifying and adopting a combination of leading and lagging performance measures.

Author: Dave Lutz, CMP       

attendees raising hands

Event participation is the single-most important leading indicator, and focusing on participation performance goals will help you reach your overall goal. (AI-generated Adobe Stock photo)

Not all metrics can give you the insights you need right now. Lagging indicators look at the past — the end results of your efforts — whereas leading indicators look ahead and attempt to predict future outcomes. Here’s how to focus on leading indicators to help you reach your goals.

Participation is the single-most important leading indicator. People generally vote with their feet first and then their wallet. Some worthwhile examples of participation performance goals include:

Key Attendees

Number of registrants from two or three key attendee segments. Identify these by asking what segments are tackling the biggest challenges or driving the most change. Prioritize them further by identifying which of these segments do our sponsors or exhibitors most want to see?

Anchor Exhibitors

If you have an expo floor, its future sustainability will be a direct result of anchor exhibitor retention. Set goals for the number of exhibitors with booth sizes of 400 square feet or more. Getting new exhibitors with smaller booths is often a short-term Band-Aid.

Session Attendance

At least half of the eligible attendees should be showing up for keynotes or a block of concurrent sessions. That sounds like an easy metric to exceed, but you would be surprised how many annual conferences fall below this benchmark.

Financial is the primary area where you need a good combination of leading and lagging indicators. Lagging indicators may include items like gross revenue or gross profit. Leading indicators to consider include:

Revenue Diversification

If at least 30 percent of your revenue is coming from registration and 30 percent or more is from expo and sponsorship, you have good revenue diversification. If you are yielding at least $1 of sponsorship for every $3 of exhibit booth sales, you have good revenue diversification. If your annual conference doesn’t hit these benchmarks, you need to identify a performance metric to move the needle.

Attendee Value Proposition

At least 60 percent of your meeting’s direct expenses should be earmarked for categories that are additive to the attendee experience — a benchmark that comes from Convene’s latest Meetings Market Survey. That includes investments in F&B, AV/production, speaker/entertainment, WiFi, app development, and shuttle/destination management.

Expo/sponsor Stickiness

For each of these revenue buckets, identify those exhibitors and sponsors who invested this year and last year. If at least three-quarters of this year’s revenue is coming from the exhibitors and/or sponsors from last year, you’re in a good place.


It’s best to keep this simple. The only metric we like to recommend using is a Net Promotor Score (NPS). Ask the question: On a scale of 0–10, how likely are you to recommend this event to a friend or colleague in our industry? We often start with a NPS goal of +45.

Attendance Loyalty

The single-most important performance metric for gauging annual meeting health is attendance loyalty. For this measurement, identify the percentage of attendees at this year’s meeting who also attended one or more of your previous two annual meetings. If at least half of your attendees are repeat/loyal, you usually have a very healthy product. Be sure to not include registration categories like exhibitors, students, staff, press, and guests in this measurement. (That would be cheating.)

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.

On the Web

To better understand how leading and lagging indicators can work best together, read software company Geckoboard’s blog post, “Leading vs. Lagging Indicators: What Are They, and Why Do They Matter for Your Business?

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