Engaging First-Time Conference Attendees

Of course you want to provide an exceptional experience for ALL of your conference attendees, but ensuring that happens for your first-time attendees is particularly important. Their decision to attend future events (and possibly even renew their membership) depends heavily on that first experience, so going the extra mile for those folks, in particular, is certainly worth it.

What does “going the extra mile” for your first-time attendees look like? Here are a few tactics worth trying:

1. Create first-time attendee collateral 

Leading up to your event, be sure to create content for your first-time attendees specifically. This could include a page on your website, a section in your conference app (if you’re using one), a blog post, and even a few designated social media posts.

When creating that content, think about it from the standpoint of, “How can I help these first-timers maximize their conference experience?” Questions you may want to answer include…

  • What should I pack?
  • What should I wear?
  • How big is this conference? (How many other attendees should I expect?)
  • Do I need to pre-register for sessions or will there be plenty of room?
  • How can I best stay in the loop onsite? (Should I be following any particular social media accounts? What hashtag should I be using and following?)

The more you can set them up for success, the better off you’ll all be!

2. Help them stand out as first-timers at the event

No, you don’t want to make your first-timers feel uncomfortable. This isn’t about shining a spotlight on them. Rather, you just want to make it easy to identify them as a first-timer, which is important for two reasons:

First, it helps first-timers identify other first-timers. (Sometimes those people are a little bit easier to approach, since they’re experiencing a lot of the same emotions.) But second, it helps staff and long-time members identify who IS a newbie, so that they can make a point to make those folks feel extra welcome. And if they happen to see any of those first-timers standing alone, they can quickly approach them and engage them in conversation.

To help your first-time attendees stand out, consider having badges they can add to their name tag, or even a sticker of some kind. (In the past, the American Society of Association Executives has offered bee stickers for their “newbies” to wear at their annual meeting. Fun, right? Make yours fun too so that first-timers will be proud to wear it!)

3. Provide them with their own space 

Conferences can be overwhelming for everyone, but they can be especially overwhelming for first-timers who may have never experienced anything like that before. To help them feel more comfortable, consider creating a space exclusively for them. It could be as simple as a meeting room with a few snacks and drinks, comfortable chairs, and a staff member or two to answer any questions.

This also provides them with a smaller, less intimidating space to meet other first-time conference attendees. (Hello extra networking opportunity!)

4. Host a micro-event 

While your conference is an event in and of itself, having a smaller get-together onsite for your first-time attendees could be a nice touch. Think along the lines of a breakfast or a happy hour. Not only is this an opportunity for your first-time attendees to get to know each other, but it’s also a good opportunity for your staff to get to know them.

While everyone is gathered in one place, be sure to mention additional member benefits, upcoming events, and any other ways those first-timers may be able to get involved. By attending this conference, they’re trying to engage with your organization. Now it’s your turn to help them engage even further.

Like we mentioned earlier, you want ALL of your conference attendees to have an exceptional experience – not just your first-timers. For event planning tips and best practices, check out our free guide below!