Background Outreach events such as trainings, demonstrations, and workshops are important opportunities for encouraging private land operators to adopt voluntary conservation practices. However, the ability to understand the effectiveness of such events at influencing conservation behavior is confounded by the likelihood that attendees are already interested in conservation and may already be adopters. Understanding characteristics of events that draw non-adopters can aid in designing events and messaging that are better able to reach beyond those already interested in conservation. Methods For this study, we interviewed 101 operators of private agricultural lands in Maryland, USA, and used descriptive statistics and qualitative comparative analysis to investigate differences between the kinds of outreach events that adopters and non-adopters attended. Results Our results suggested that non-adopters, as compared to adopters, attended events that provided production-relevant information and were logistically easy to attend. Further, non-adopters were more selective when reading advertisements, generally preferring simplicity. Future research and outreach can build on these findings by experimentally testing the effectiveness of messages that are simple and relevant to farmers' production priorities.