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The Keys to Success with Conference First-timers

Attending a conference can be an intimidating experience for anyone, especially first-time attendees, no matter where they are at in their career. As you plan your conference, keep this in mind. Here are some ways to assist in your planning that will help first-timers feel more engaged with the process, the content, and their fellow attendees:

Before the Conference

One of the biggest misnomers about a conference is that it begins and ends with the time at the venue. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The experience of a conference begins the minute the conference is announced to membership and can live on long after everyone goes home through the lessons learned and the connections made. The initial marketing of your conference is extremely important. How you tell members, including the imagery on flyers and in emails, can shape the preconceived ideas about a conference. 

Leading up to the conference, employ an e-mail campaign focused on the new attendees. Include content highlighting important conference and industry lingo and concepts. This will be a great guide to members, so they don’t feel the usual first conference gitters. Make sure they know about the conference orientation – then help them register to participate.

Share a pre-conference check list, so that your new attendees don’t forget anything they might need at a conference. For instance, you want to make sure they don’t forget to bring some business cards. As you will want to ensure that members can stay connected with the amazing new contacts they will make at the conference.

During the Conference

If you ran a successful email campaign, the first thing your new attendees will do is attend the conference orientation, which will be much more engaging since they have already received the vital content via your pre-conference email campaign. Be sure to have members present who have attended previous conferences. Invite them to present about their experiences.

In fact, having a “buddy” program in play, would be ideal.  Buddies could be assigned to new conference attendees to assist them with maneuvering through the conference with ease and achieve its full value. You could even assign these buddies ahead of the conference as a point of contact to help with completing that pre-conference check list.

Buddies should be made aware that it is a commitment to help the new attendee and even to follow-up after the conference. This buddy is a mentor of sorts that will find a common ground with the new attendee, which only increases the value of conference attendance and the member experience, as well as engagement.  

Further, programs at the conference should include exciting and highly engaging activities that push the limits of your members’ comfort zone for maximum learning potential. Presentations are great, but you want to connect your members in ways that make your conference the go-to experience for team building, networking, and learning.

After the Conference

Everyone has gone home, but the conference really isn’t over. You want to allow the experience to linger as a legacy of knowledge for those first-time attendees. To ensure this, utilize post-conference follow-up efforts with those first-time attendees to keep them engaged and excited about the material and the experience.

A thank you email should go out to all attendees that invites them to complete that highly essential post-conference survey. For first-time attendees, have their buddies reach out personally to thank them, with encouragement to share their voice about the experience at the conference.

A few months after the conference, hold a “reunion” event led by the buddies to reconnect first-time attendees both with the people they met and the content they learned at the conference. Use this opportunity to check-in with members regarding value attribution and next steps. If getting everyone together in one locale might prove difficult, then host a virtual event. The key aspect here isn’t so much what you do, but that you do something to keep the experience fresh for these members.

As you prepare for the new conference, invite those former first-timers to a second-timers meeting to prep them to serve as a buddy in their third year, should they choose to. This helps to maintain continuity and engagement of all attendee levels.

Providing a high level of focus on first-time attendees may take some time and energy to accomplish, but it will be worth it in the end when they return time and again to the conference. That, and they will invite others to attend, growing and expanding the experience for greater growth in the industry community as a whole.

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