The secret to sign-ups: nail your open house

Last week’s post focused on troubleshooting program attendance. This week, I’m taking a step back on our program timeline to address the challenge of pre-program sign-ups. HCA does not require advance sign-ups for every activity or class that we coordinate, but we are heavily reliant upon them for our more specialized 10-week programs. In our experience, the quickest way to a saturated sign-up sheet is a stand-alone open house wherein both the program and the instructor(s) are introduced to the community. Hosting an open house is an art however, and one that may not result in committed sign-ups without the following three considerations:

1. Tasty morsels

Free food and drink has great appeal to busy, working parents and their hungry children, not to mention seniors with limited mobility. Free nibbles also have a way of putting people at ease in the midst of a new opportunity; forking grapes can help them overcome the intimidation of trying something new. That said, free food can quickly get out of hand when “prospective participants” sneak home with a Cookie Monster-sized plate before you’ve even whipped out a sign-up sheet. To remedy this disappearing act, make a point to serve food after your program pitch. Disinterested attendees will head home, leaving you with a more serious group of prospective program sign-ups.

2. Sample examples

In addition to tasty morsels, examples of work relating to the proposed class are also great icebreakers for an open house event. They help demystify the subject matter, spur conversation and give prospective participants a vote of confidence — “Hey, I can do that!” Extra juicy tip: If possible, bring samples of student work from previous classes. Your own (more advanced) work might be a touch intimidating for newbies.

3. Mingle

You finish your awe-inspiring earth-crushing program schpeal and let loose the refreshments. What now? Get out there and talk it up some more! Go around the room and introduce yourself, one-on-one and one-by-one. Shakes residents’ hands, get their names, ask about their families, how they like the neighborhood, where they work, etc. Remember: positive relationships are the foundation for successful resident services. Practices that build trust and familiarity between you and the community you work with will invariably generate more signs-ups, and later, higher attendance. A beloved instructor makes for a beloved program; residents participate not only to learn a skill, but also to share in your enviable company.
What tips do you recommend for a sign-ups frenzy at a program’s open house?

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