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How do I engage first-time attendees at my conference?

Think back to the last time you went somewhere new, where you had to meet new people and navigate an unfamiliar space.
We’ll give you a moment…
Have you thought of it? Good.
Now think about how you felt during that time. Were you anxious? Were you worried about making the right impression? Did it bring back memories of the high school cafeteria? That’s not an unusual reaction! The all-show average for first-time attendees has crept up to 39%. (click to tweet)

It’s up to you, eventprofs, to make first-time attendees forget their jitters and concerns and allow them to focus on all the great experiences they’re about to have! Here are our top tips for engaging with first-time attendees.

Start here

Provide a guide for first-timers like this example from the National Homebrewers Conference. This is your chance to show off your event or conference, while providing essential advice on everything from attire to seminar proceedings. Use a personal tone and keep things light! Make this document available on your event website and app.

Make it matter

If your conference provides networking opportunities, why not make these sessions more productive? Amanda Kaiser from Smooth The Path suggests implementing “curated networking” as a step beyond traditional networking at conferences. Devise a system whereby like-minded attendees can connect with each other, using a list or even an app that shows everyone’s industry or interests.

Lead the way

Before the event officially begins, you can host an orientation session for the uninitiated. Give a tour of the venue to provide first-time attendees with a chance to familiarize themselves with the space, or inquire about 360° virtual tours. Instruct participants on how to get the most out of their time at the event and take questions. Addressing venue anxiety helps increase attendee satisfaction on a psychological level.

Bottoms up

A happy hour or local pub crawl provides a casual environment in which to meet new people and ask questions while participating in the nightlife of a new town. Be sure to invite first-timers and conference veterans alike! With 67% of business travellers saying it’s important to build extra free time into their trips, find out which other experiences you could offer that will resonate most with your attendees.

Buddy up

If you want to focus on partnering first-time attendees with experienced ones, the “buddy system” would be a good solution to implement. It involves asking experienced attendees to select a first-time attendee that they will introduce themselves to through email and answer any questions they may have. It’s not a burdensome responsibility and first-timers will appreciate it.

Get social

Pre-event engagement on social media can help make new participants get accustomed to the conversations surrounding your event before it actually takes place. You can reach out to them explicitly on social media so that they can begin to feel part of your family instantly. And of course, when you post engaging content both before and after the event, you keep your event’s relevance top-of-mind. First-timers will be more likely to come back next time!

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