Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now in Washington, DC.
You not only want to make first-timers feel at home at your meeting, but you also want them to return. A glimpse at how two associations make conference newbies feel at home.
Being a first-time attendee at a conference, whether large or small, can be overwhelming. A first-timer may not know anyone, may be unsure about what sessions to pick, and may worry about feeling out of place. Luckily, many associations are going out of their way to make conference newbies feel at home.
The Licensing Executives Society USA and Canada (LES) recruits volunteers to connect with first-time attendees before its annual meeting to help them better navigate the three-day event. "We match volunteers and new attendees by their technology area of interest, so that the connections are mutually useful," says Executive Director Ken Schoppmann, CAE.
During the meeting, LES hosts a first-time and new-members' event immediately before its opening reception.
"We have general membership information available during this time, but it's primarily another opportunity for new and experienced members to find each other," Schoppmann says.
The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene does something similar for first-timers at its 4,500-attendee event. ASTMH has a mentoring program that matches up veteran members with those new to the field. They plan some meeting times and get together during the show to discuss how it's going.
Assistant Meetings Manager Jill Hronek presents a one-hour session for this group of 200 to 250 newbies, highlighting meeting facts and ways to manage the large slate of onsite programming.
"Then we have a first-timers reception that board members and committee chairs also attend to welcome new attendees into the fold and into the meeting," she says.
To help them stand out in the crowd, ASTMH has first-timers wear a ribbon that indicates their status, and staff and meeting veterans are advised to talk to them, help them out, and check in with them as often as possible.
For LES, the first-timer experience continues once the meeting wraps up. "After the meeting, we prepare a follow-up survey to first-time attendees and remind our volunteer hosts to personally follow up with the new attendees they met," Schoppmann says.
[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Warm Welcome."]