The Science of Crowd Control

If you’re planning to host a special speaker for your school, library or community event, and you’d like a large audience turn-out, then simply invite an animal show (or the Ringling Brothers’ clowns!). These popular performers will bring in the BIG audience head count you need to impress your superiors and city officials, but they also bring another BIG potential problem: crowd control. After years of being on the receiving end of swarms of excited fans, we’ve picked-up some wisdom from the best event planners in the business.

Planning for a Crowd

The most important number to know when planning for a crowd is the maximum fire code room capacity. This is not just an arbitrary figure for you to double or triple as needed, this is the number you must restrict yourself to in audience planning. No joke — we once had fire engines arrive screaming at a library when a disgruntled father, whose tike couldn’t see well in the crowd, got irritated enough by overcrowding that he dialed 911 in protest! This didn’t bode well for the librarian’s future. And, packing in more than the max number is just plain dangerous should an emergency occur. If you can predict potential crowd size, and they won’t all fit into your space, we suggest you:

offer multiple show times, or

move to a larger venue, or

limit your crowd size (keep reading for the how-to’s)

Managing the Numbers

Here are some successful ways other event planners have managed or limited the size of their crowds:

count the heads as they enter — first come, first seated — turn-away the overflow or offer them the next show [be warned that this method can result in agitated folks, probably not the smoothest approach to customer service]

require pre-registration or advance ticket distribution — when they’re gone, they’re gone [be aware that this approach requires LOTS of pre-publicity and you’ll need to be ready to turn-away those at the door who hadn’t read the fine print]

restrict daycare groups — limit their numbers with advance reservations or don’t allow daycares to attend at all [they’re always looking for free entertainment, but is this really your primary audience?]

restrict the age of the audience — for example, limiting the audience to schoolers (ages 6 years and older) will greatly reduce the number of infants, noisy toddlers, and noisier parents

restrict the audience to children ONLY — that’s right, "no adults" — and advertise a strict set of audience age limits [OK, we know this makes you cringe, but we know of LOTS of schools and libraries who have successfully weaned their parents from needing to sit with their kids at shows, it can take a couple of years and a few confrontations, but it CAN be done — call us and we’ll put you in touch with those with experience]

Controlling the Audience

The crowd shouldn’t control you, YOU should control the crowd. Here’re some proven tricks of the trade to help you control the masses:

keep your audience in a holding area — seat them just 5 minutes before show time, the performer will love you forever and the audience volume will stay much lower

mark the seating areas — if on-the-floor seating, mark the audience areas with blue painter’s tape to show them the boundaries [no mess to remove]

– use staff or volunteers — position them around the room to guide the audience to the seating areas and to enforce the boundaries during the show

restrict strollers — ban strollers all together or require them to be kept at the back of the room [they take way too much space and are an exit hazard in case of emergency]

require parents with infants or toddlers to sit nearest the exit doors — announce that noisy youngsters must immediately be taken out of the show area [be prepared to enforce this during show time, as we’ve had many mothers stubbornly refuse to leave, which ruins the show for the rest of your audience]

provide a quality microphone/speaker system — set the volume loud enough to maintain the audience’s attention over light chatter

introduce the performer — announce whatever house rules you and your performer have agreed upon, such as the use of cell phones or video recorders

instruct your audience how to exit the show area — position staff or volunteers to keep the crowd moving-on out

provide a private and safe entrance and exit route for your performer — especially when they’re lugging props or animal crates [nothing worse than getting swarmed with your arms full]

exude confidence and professionalism at all times — be polite, but firm, if challenged — crowds will usually behave according to your expectations, IF you make your expectations perfectly clear

 

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