Generally association event managers focus on improving the event or conference based on previous years. They use post-event survey results to gain feedback from attendees and make slight changes based on that data – and this process works well. However, the focus is solely on existing event attendees and their impressions of the previous event anddoes not factor in new attendees and what they might want to make their first experience valuable.

Candidate, new members, or student members can often make up a good percentage of an association’s membership. Many association events do not differentiate this group from the existing membership at large, but there may be significant benefits in doing so. Candidate, new, or student members are the future core members of an association and attendees of their events. Ensuring that their first experience at an event is successful is a crucial part of guaranteeing their return in future years.

The Target Group

Candidate, new or student members can be included in this group.– However, the focus should be on future members of any ilk, as they represent the future core of your association.

Attending an Association Conference for the First Time

Attending an association’s conference for the first time can be overwhelming. There are multiple moving parts including breakout sessions, lectures and social activities. Things are that much more daunting when you don’t know anyone and it seems like everyone else around you has connections and are reuniting with old friends. Acknowledging this point and coming up with a strategy can help the candidate member get adjusted much more quickly and make them less likely to be turned off by their first experience.

Make the New Attendee Feel Welcome

There are a number of strategies that may work best for an association, but at the end of the day it’s important to simply acknowledge the fact that there are first time attendees at your event. Recognize this group in some way at the very beginning of your event so that they can get settled in early. I am working with an association that is hosting a mentorship breakfast on the first day of the conference. This breakfast pairs candidate or student members with a long-time certified member. Each pairing focuses on a specific theme (i.e. field versus research) and pairings rotate periodically so that each candidate meets with a mentor specializing in each of the major themes. This allows candidates to make connections with experienced members and discuss their professional interests in a casual setting.

By planning something at the beginning of the conference, the planning committee is able to address all new attendees at one time, in one place. The committee can give a run through of the event and highlight any important information.

The association conference has only just begun but by scheduling an activity for candidates similar to a mentorship breakfast, you have created a more comfortable environment for new attendees. The candidates and students now have a small network within the mentors and other new attendees. They also have a better understanding of the event and will get more out of it by avoiding any sort of confusion.

The Benefits of Successful Integration

The benefits of planning something specific for new attendees greatly outweigh the small costs involved. The new attendees are more likely to have a positive experience as they have felt valued and welcomed by the association and planning committee. This positive experience will increase the likelihood that the candidate will return to the event again, either as a candidate or as a newly certified member. The candidate is also more likely to share their positive experience with their classmates and colleagues. This free word-of-mouth promotion of your event can result in new registrations in future years as well as increased rates of return attendees.

New Old Attendees

The new attendee category at an event is not exclusive to students or candidate members. There may be a group of members within an association that have never attended the association’s annual conference or networking event before. This group can be addressed in a similar way to students or candidate members. Once again, it begins with acknowledgment of this group and then the implementation of a strategy. Maybe invite new attendees to an event orientation the first morning of the event, or pair new attendees with an experienced event attendee who can support them throughout the event. The same benefits of return attendees and word-of-mouth promotion can come from this group. There is also an additional benefit specific to this group that can be gained by focussing some attention on them. You can find out why they have never attended before. The reasoning behind non-attendance can help an association and planning committee make subtle changes to an event that may encourage greater attendance from those members that were hesitant to register in the past.

Whether the focus is students, candidate members, newmembers or existing old members, simple strategies can be worked into an association event that make new attendees feel welcome and help them realize true value from attending.

These small efforts will result in a greater rate of return and overall increased registration numbers. Focus on your new attendees early because soon enough they will make up the bulk of your event audience.