A recent AssociationsNow post - Perfecting the First-Time Attendee Experience - brought back some distant memories of my very first association conference. As a junior association staffer, I was so excited to fly half-way across the country to attend my first industry conference. But once I arrived, I felt so lost and alone since I didn’t know anyone there. Try as I might, I felt like a new kid at high school where the cliques were very tight and unwelcoming.
In her post, Samantha Whitehorne reminds us that “conference newbies can be just as anxious to attend your meeting as they are excited, especially if they don’t know anyone.” And she asks: “how can you turn a first-time attendee into a meeting veteran?” In response, Whitehorne offers links to some great examples of unique ways organizations are welcoming newbies and helping them navigate meetings, including:
- online guides:
- the American Homewbrewers Association offers a First Time Attendee Guide
- the Society of American Archivists also offered a guide for New Members, First-Timers and Students
- “first-timer orientation forums”
- “network cafes”
- orientation luncheons - such as the one the Global Business Travel Association offers specifically for first-timers.
Make meetings "network-friendly"
We also offered up some tips for Creating Network-friendly Membership Events a while back, including ideas to help spark connections and ways to stimulate an "atmosphere of connectedness" at membership events. Some ideas that might help all of your members, especially newcomers, feel more welcome and take advantage of networking opportunities include:
- Plan Pre-Event Preparation: Put articles and tip sheets on “networking know-how” in your magazine, newsletter, and convention packets.
- Put Networking Know-How in the Spotlight: Give attendees at your events the rules and tools for making networking an art, not an accident. Schedule a keynote or opening session that shows attendees how to make the most of the meeting.
- Make Nametags Novel: Print the first name as LARGE as you possibly can. As a conversation starter, add a colored ribbon or sticker to designate “first timer” or “award winner.”
- Maximize the Mix & Mingle: Include some short, structured one-on-one or small group activities to encourage mixing and meeting. Choose an upbeat, energetic, well-known person to lead the session.
Don’t forget to welcome new volunteers too
While it’s important to make new members and event attendees feel welcome, don’t forget your new volunteers - especially those who are helping out for the first time at your conference or annual meeting. They should be welcomed, introduced to your entire staff and volunteer team as well as receiving an orientation to the venue and the event. After all, your event staff and volunteers are your goodwill ambassadors, so you want them to feel comfortable and connected so they can model inclusive behavior.
How you can make new members or attendees feel welcome? Offer up your suggestions in our comments below.
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