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In academia, is there evidence that including phrases such as "refreshments provided" in a seminar announcement increases the average attendance (even slightly)?

  • 7
    What kind of seminar? What is the intended audience? – Aru Ray Feb 19 '15 at 18:28
  • 14
    Plenty of anecdotal evidence here if it's lunch. People rarely turn down pizza. I would suggest holding pizza till middle/end if you want people to listen rather than grab and go, though. – Compass Feb 19 '15 at 18:33
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    If you are specifically looking for hard data (as I think you do), use the reference-request tag. – xLeitix Feb 19 '15 at 18:51
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    I'm confident things like pizza are helpful, especially if you want undergraduate students and the like - not because they want free pizza alone, but many times I've been invited to something after 4pm and if I have to choose between being tired and hungry and going home, or going to a talk - it sure is easy to reconsider if at least I won't have to go hungry to attend. If it's just "refreshments", on the other hand, I'd be skeptical that it has as strong of an effect. Now provide an open bar/drink tickets, on the other hand... – BrianH Feb 19 '15 at 21:44
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    If you say 'free beer' everybody will come. – Ali Caglayan Feb 20 '15 at 0:16
29

Yes.

I would love to be able to say how content matters the most (I still believe it does), but in my experience in several academic institutions, providing refreshments is welcomed by grad students and faculty alike. If there are two events with equal content quality, one of which offers food, it will most likely get increased attendance.

  • 1
    I have the same impression, but it could be confirmation bias. – gerrit Feb 19 '15 at 19:26
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    Same experiences here, but as I see it, refreshments do not matter until you do not have them... – o4tlulz Feb 19 '15 at 20:00
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    If refreshments are provided, then even if the seminar is terrible, you've at least gotten so free food and drink. It also usually means the presenter has prepared. – sevensevens Feb 20 '15 at 22:21
47

I think you should approach the question slightly differently - don't ask whether more people will come to your presentation because there are refreshments. Instead, ask whether refreshments will enhance the overall experience. In my experience, refreshments help to keep the group together after the event is over, which in turn allows for people to mingle, share ideas, and get to know one another better. When refreshments aren't provided, people tend to bolt out the door immediately following the end of the lecture. In this sense, refreshments give you the chance to build community, and give undergrads, graduate students, and junior scholars the chance to bend the ear of a senior scholar.

  • 5
    yep this is why it is great to have refreshments after the talk rather than before! – WetlabStudent Feb 20 '15 at 15:47
  • @WetLabStudent, before is good if people have to travel, as they can plan to get there for the refurbishments, but if they are late, the still get the start of the talk. – Ian Feb 20 '15 at 22:15
  • This answer is really excellent (+1), but I think, as it states, it answers a (slightly) different question: The impact of refreshments on the audience and the presenter but not The impact of including refreshments in the announcement on the number of attending people. – Orion Mar 6 '15 at 10:02
10

My own experience is that it depends mainly on the level you are dealing with.

  • With graduate students, postdocs, and faculty/staff, it is not so much that refreshments attract people, but that when refreshments are customary in a community that a lack of refreshments will disappoint attendees. I have known highly attended seminar series that never have refreshments.
  • With undergraduates, refreshments make a big difference, especially cookies or pizza.
4

It works for best 'newcomer' group among researchers.

When I was a new grad student, I was enthusiastic about the 'refreshment' part. Often attended programs for it.

Gradually, we grow out of it. Now, free pizza does not appeal as much as it used to do 3 years ago. Drinking sugary drink was much more fun without guilty feelings (I was slightly younger, and cared less about my body that carries the head that contains the grey matters)

  • 6
    Ummm... there are also many senior professors, far from being newcomers, that go to PhD thesis defense only for the cocktail that follows. Some actually skip the defense. – Taladris Feb 20 '15 at 15:34
2

I don't see any reason that offering food could repel people.

But, if the seminar is not attractive by himself, offering food may be of no help. I remember that, few years ago, my university decided to have a (very unformal, simple) cocktail after our general colloquium. It had almost no effect on the attendance to the seminar: most absentees didn't come to the seminar because it was at 5PM and they wanted to be home early. Offering crackers, cheese and good wine (that was in France) and orange juice didn't change anything for them.

1

If you are doing a seminar where you expect folk to travel to hear it, then I have found (for professional engineering (UK) seminars) that a nominal charge will help folk actually turn up (things for free aren't worth anything are they; Are they?).

A small fee also allows folks to 'justify' their attendance and ancillary expenses that would not be allowed for a free seminar (a flight, a hotel, etc). It's a case of knowing your target audience and their issues and concerns, even contradictory ones!

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