I go to a lot of events. I cover them. I organize them. I speak at the em. I attend them. For any given event, easily the most common question is how many people attend. It’s how we get a sense of how popular (which is a clumsy shorthand for how valuable something is) the event was. But it’s the wrong question and, I’ve found, almost always a lie.
Because it’s so damn hard. Think about the challenge of estimating attendance at large-scale public events. We always have our reporters estimate attendee counts and often have organizers challenge us. Once an event stretches beyond even just a few dozen people, there’s no sure thing that anyone there will have a good sense of the attendee count. People will have a perceived sense of the crowd — was the event well attended or not — but that has very little to do with actual account and more to do with how full an event location is, among other biases and perspectives. Give me the right number of chairs, and I’ll make your 20-person event crowded.
It’s become second nature for me to hand count attendance at smaller events and do batch counting for larger ones (gauge what a group of 100 looks like and then estimate from there). So I read other event estimates with heavy skepticism.