You could compare a delegate’s experience at a conference to a memorable vacation. I have travelled through many cities, many countries, and the destinations that left a lasting impression on me were in large part due to the people I met, and the activities we took part in. It didn’t really matter ‘where’ I was, what mattered was that I had fun, I met great people, and I participated in activities and adventures that were right up my alley. In order to leave a lasting impression on a delegate at your conference, you need to make them feel that their presence matters. Create situations where your delegates can develop friendships, network with key people, and above all learn new and valuable information.
- Always ask for special dietary requirements in the registration process. Ensure that those who have responded to this question are well informed of the menu, ingredients, and what options will be available to them. This information can be sent to them prior to the conference. Ask the venue staff to place tent cards on the buffet to identify each food. You could even give each of these delegates a special meal voucher that they would present to the hotel staff. This would ensure that they aren’t stuck eating the same food during the whole conference! Make sure that the hotel is well aware of all your special requirements in advance and that the staff are instructed on how to respond to and address these meal requests.
- Get first-timers to come back! It can be awkward for a first-timer at a conference, but we need to make it easier. Make their experience a memorable one by leaving a hand-written welcome message from the executive director in their rooms when they arrive. Go a step further and personalize each message to include at least one mention of something specific to them (i.e. where they are from, what sessions they are registered for, their interests, etc.). Get some of your staff to call all first-timers two weeks before the conference and ask them if there is anything you can do to make their experience more beneficial. Explore the option of creating a mentoring program between first-timers and veterans.
- Give attendees a reason to speak to new people – Conferences are a great opportunity to network with new people from the same industry, but it isn’t always easy to strike a conversation. Organize lunch tables by similar interest topics, either professional topics or personal (i.e. travelling, sports, favorite colour), or assign light discussion topics to each table to start conversations. You could also use name badges to create conversations. Print an interesting fact about the attendee on their name badge and this could trigger discussions (i.e. My passion is: _______).
- Listen to what your delegates want. Send out a survey post-conference and take action based on the feedback you receive. “The most successful event organizers listen to their participants and implement their suggestions to ensure that every professional can, first of all, remain committed to attending the event and, after attending, leave that event feeling satisfied with the time and money they spent.” (www.marketingprofs.com, Five Ways to Boost Attendee Engagement at Events, July 3, 2013)
Consider the different types of delegates you are hosting; different age groups, gender, level of experience, delegates vs. exhibitors, etc., and reflect on how the conference could be even better for each group. A good way to start would be to include the question: What is your main objective at this year’s conference? on your registration form.
If you take the time to personalize your delegates’ experience, they will in turn take the time to attend your conference.