Organized a virtual conference and invited lots of top-tier speakers. The number of registrants was around 115, and the event got lots of attention on social media. The strange thing is that the average number of those who showed up per session was 10 sometimes 6. The speakers were disappointed and it was really awkward. They gave the lectures/talks half-heartedly and I got the impression that everyone thought that they are the only ones who got the lowest number of attendees compared to others.

Now as an organizer. Should I express that to them? and how?

  • 1
    Was registration free? Were the sessions in parallel?
    – GoodDeeds
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 23:28
  • Free. Not in parallel. Spread over 3 days.
    – Nadine
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 23:30
  • Given that it was free and that it was virtual, a lot of registrants might not have really been committed to attending, so having only a small fraction of them show up does not seem very strange (but this is not an answer to your question).
    – GoodDeeds
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 23:55
  • Sadly, many people register for conferences simply so that they can put it on their resumes and do not attend any talks. Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 0:48

1 Answer 1


Yes, send an apology and revise your conference process accordingly

Firstly, thank-you for your hard work in organising an academic conference. Academics appreciate the hard work done by staff in setting up these events, even if they don't go as planned. The fact that you have worked hard to arrange a conference, arrange invitations for speakers, etc., reflects very well on you, so you needn't worry about being perceived negatively.

Now to the substance of your question. Having low numbers of attendees to talks is an inefficient use of time and academic resources. Consequently, you should consider revising your process in the conference to try to avoid this result in future. It sounds like you have a good number of overall registrants to your conference, and I also note from your comments that you did not hold sessions in parallel. This suggests that you had low engagement per session, which is common for virtual conferences, particularly when registration is free. Nevertheless, it might still indicate that the conference was too long or that there were insufficient opportunities for audience discussion/socialising between sessions. Try to get some information on engagement levels from other virtual conferences and see if there is anything you could be doing better to increase engagement.

The fact that you did not hold sessions in parallel means that each speaker had a full timeslot, without any competition from other speakers, so I think that demonstrates that you were respectful of the value of their time. (Had you held parallel sessions and got this result then that would be much worse!) Nevertheless, it is worth emailing the speakers with an apology, as you propose. Let them know that you are disappointed with the low attendance at the individual talks, that this was a surprise to you given the solid number of registrants, and that you are going to review your process for the conference in future to try to increase engagement. The speakers will probably feel a bit disappointed that they put in a lot of work to prepare a talk and had so few people listen to their talk, and finding out that you share that disappointment (and are looking into ways to fix it) will give them some confidence that this is not the norm. If the speakers do not receive anything from you about the issue then they will assume that this is normal for the events you organise, and that you are comfortable having talks with so few attendees, which will make them less inclined to speak at your conferences in future.

  • It is very awkward, I hope this doesn't reflect badly on me. I really worked so hard and was not expecting this at all.
    – Nadine
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 0:40
  • I don't think it reflects badly on you. You gave each speaker a full slot, so that is fine. We are all aware of how hard conference organisers work to get things up and running, so I doubt anyone will be too harsh on this outcome.
    – Ben
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 1:25
  • In fact, I would say that organising a conference reflects very well on you, even if it doesn't go as planned. If you were to follow up with an apology for the low attendance, it will reflect even better on you. In any case, thank-you for all your hard work putting together an academic conference. I have updated my answer to reflect the good work you have done.
    – Ben
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 4:40

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