Engaging Conference Attendees At Hello Results In Big Rewards

Five Fingers for Seven Notes

Are you looking for ways to improve your conference attendee loyalty?

If yes, and I’m sure you are, here’s an effective strategy:

Integrate a deliberate on-boarding effort for new attendees into your attendance-marketing plan. Master this and you’ll receive big rewards!

First Time Attendee Trend

Our industry is experiencing an interesting trend with the increase of first-timers at annual conferences.

According to Exhibit Surveys Inc., the all-show average for first-time attendees has crept up to 38 percent. This means nearly four out of 10 attendees are experiencing your meeting for the first time. And while they’ve taken the first step, they are not fully committed.

This represents an opportunity for you to convert a higher percentage of them into regulars, starting with a strong focus in your on-boarding process. You have to engage them at Hello!

Three Ways To Make Them Feel Welcome

If you’re waiting until the conference kick-off to introduce yourself, you’re too late. Here’s how to make them feel welcome.

1. Make a positive first impression.

Look at your auto-respond email when someone registers for your conference. Is it personal? Chances are most of your leadership team has never seen what you are sending out as registrants’ first impression.

Take a page from the playbook of the presentation software and free iPad app, Haiku Deck, which sends out a personalized email from its CEO within hours after you’ve downloaded the app. Their welcome message invites you to Haiku Deck’s community and offers to connect you to other like-minded users.

I also love how internet radio Pandora encourages first-timers with steps on how to meet their musical needs and interests.

These personalized touches are critical and should be part of your attendance-marketing plan. Make sure any email responses or questions you send go directly to someone’s personal email box and not into some folder the intern checks once a week.

2. Enlist an army of hosts.

Your loyal attendees and members are your best allies in converting first-timers into raving regulars — if only you enlist their support. When a first-timer experiences true connexity (community and connections), they will be hooked.

Come up with a covert way to identify first-timers without making them feel called out or self-conscious (no ribbons, please). Then educate your loyal attendees on how to identify these new comers so they can actively engage them with the conference community.

3. Educate everyone on how to get the most out of the conference experience.

Consider how summer camps engage everyone, no matter how many times they’ve been there before. Each camper goes through an orientation on the first day to learn what’s new and how things have changed.

Follow this example and offer an early-morning facilitated session on “How to get the most out of today” to help your attendees navigate the learning and networking options. These daily how-to sessions also provide for serendipitous connections to occur, giving you another opportunity to deliver on your networking promise.

This strategy will also help you gather intelligence on the education and networking needs of all your attendees and allow you to make some course corrections to better meet their needs. Nothing builds loyalty more than when attendees feel welcomed and cared for.

How does your conference make people feel welcome? What tips have you learned about first-time or new conference orientations?

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2013.

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