by Matthew Sanderson
• Tips for appealing to first time attendees
Without having participated in every profession, hobby, or enthusiasm that hosts a conference, I imagine every organization that goes through the effort required to host a successful conference wants to continually attract and retain new members. I recently attended a conference as a first-timer. I’ve been to conferences and helped to plan and host conferences, but this experience was my first foray into a particular organization. Some of my observations may be able to help you with your next conference.
a. When the presenter adds information to their presentation that is not in the provided material (printed or PDF), invariably the added information, is essentially The Answer you were seeking. “The information you have in your handout covers most of this, but the slides I added last night will change the way you think about this topic and how you engage this issue forever and ever from this point into perpetuity. Just sign up on this blank sheet of paper and I’ll email the changes.”
b. Do presenters really ever send out the slide decks to the people on the makeshift lists people write their name, title, organization, and 45-character email address on? I know they have the best of intentions…
2. While it doesn’t spark a lot of local exploration, I appreciate a conference hosted in a hotel. No parking issues, no commutes to worry about, and, if you forgot your phone charger, it’s just upstairs. But…
a. Even though we’re all in the same building, it doesn’t mean we all know where the registration table is located. A little wandering is all it took in this case, but if your registration site is not within a direct line of sight from the hotel front desk, consider a sign. Or a happy human guiding the somewhat confused humans to the proper location.
b. All attendees had to walk the same path from the guestrooms, through the lobby, to the meeting rooms. No problem. But if you’re going to record participants’ testimony on video, do so off the beaten path, not in it. If attendees have to non-verbally communicate one-lane traffic control because exactly one body can fit between the tripod and the wall in THE walkway, consider relocating your recording studio.
3. A thorough and detailed schedule can be a huge benefit to attendees, particularly newbies. There may be events and activities that are a part of the culture your lifers will understand that the new folks will not. If there’s a dinner you want on the published schedule but not everyone can attend, be sure to state, “By Invitation Only” or “For The Executive Chairs of Committees Only” or “Must Provide Evidence of Having Eaten a Full Meal Within the Last 90 Minutes to Attend This Dinner” or whatever your criteria might be. But…
a. On your detailed schedule, the attendees don’t care how many rooms are being used for a speaker, they just want to know where to go. If your keynote is in Salons 1-10, but doors to Salons 1-4 are behind the stage, don’t list those Salons in the schedule. For your own entertainment, you may want participants to pop-in backstage and scare the bejeezus out of themselves and your speaker. Not judging, just recommending. For locations, attendees want to know where to go before they engage the social drama of finding the perfect seat.
b. Observe the schedule. Even if your speaker has the most melodious, honey-coated voice and is assembling words in an order that is truly life changing for anyone present, stick to the schedule. “Alright, let’s give another hand to our speaker. Truly inspirational. I don’t know if you noticed, we’re a tad behind schedule, but it is lunchtime. Lunch is on your own and there are great venues in the hotel and within walking distance. Enjoy your lunch, see you back here in 9 minutes for the next session.”
Matthew Sanderson has been attending and occasionally planning education conferences nationwide for over two decades. Matthew brings an end-user perspective to meeting and conference planning.