First time attendees may feel both excited and anxious when they sign up for your event. They likely don’t know anyone else attending and may not be sure what to expect once they arrive. There are a few things you can do to make these first-timers feel welcome and make them want to return again next year.
Offer a Guide
Make sure you identify who your first time attendees are. This allows you to offer them a guide that will help them understand things such as:
- What to expect from sessions
- What is included in the conference fee
- What to pack (business cards, etc.)
- How to dress
- Ideas for networking
- A walk through of the conference from the time they arrive until they leave
Another idea is to offer an orientation for first time attendees on the first day of the conference. The orientation helps attendees understand what benefits are available, how to network and even provides an opportunity where the first timers can get to know one another and hopefully make connections right there in that orientation room.
Some organizations match a conference veteran with a newbie buddy. The two can exchange cell numbers and the veteran will check in during events, such as meal times and parties to make sure the newbie has someone to sit with and is making connections.
Integrate Networking into Sessions
Even if you offer a guide and an orientation, some newbies will skip these features and may still feel left out of the loop. It’s a good idea to integrate a bit of networking into each session. For example, spend a few minutes at the beginning of the session with an ice breaker or two. The goal is to get even the most introverted of attendees interacting with new people and to help them find networking opportunities.
Newcomer Dinner or Outing
Some conferences plan a dinner or outing the night before the conference starts. The key is to encourage newcomers to sign up to go on the outing and veterans to lead a group. Groups should be around six to eight people, so that group members have a chance to get to know each other well during this outing.
Divide up the groups so they are a mix of newbies and veterans. The key here is to get leaders who are outgoing and even offer some instructions for how to include everyone in the group and make sure all are talking and getting to know one another. This gives attendees a recognizable face or two in the midst of a sea of conference attendees.
Online Networking Pre- and Post- Conference
Utilize social media sites to set up a private page for conference attendees to interact with one another. It is best to divide attendees up into categories so the groups are smaller and people can get to know one another online before they ever attend the conference.
A couple of weeks before the conference, encourage the groups to plan to meet up with those they’ve met through the networking page. Let registrants know what venues are available in the conference center, such as coffee shops and restaurants.
Give Newbies a Special Badge
When creating the nametags, give first time attendees a special badge that has a stripe in a different color, the name in a different color, a star, etc. Also, print their name in large, bold letters.
The goal with this special badge is to inform veterans what the newbie badges look like and then encourage those who are familiar with your conference and attend year after year to greet the newcomers and see if they have any questions.
This creates an atmosphere where people are engaging the newbie in conversation, making sure he knows where to go for sessions, asking him to sit with them at meals and making him feel welcome and a bit coddled.
Putting a program in place to ensure that newcomers feel welcome and understand what to expect will help avoid a situation where an attendee walks away from your conference wondering why he’d ever return. Instead, he will feel welcomed and comfortable and hopefully make valuable connections at your conference.
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