With Valentine’s Day on the way, it’s good to think about ways to show attendees some love. An e-Valentine might be a start, but why limit your adoration to a single day in February? You can show appreciation in many ways, especially face-to-face at conferences.
Greet With Good Cheer
Tap into your inner hostess. Find ways to make people feel warmly welcomed; after all, they are probably tuckered out after a long flight or drive. Visit San Jose, the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau and other convention bureaus will supply teams of airport greeters who provide information about transportation, hotels and baggage claim and answer other questions. Take the welcome up a notch and have greeters hand new arrivals a bottle of cold water or, better yet, a branded stainless-steel water bottle — filled, of course. If the meeting’s in a sunny spot, give them a small tube of sunscreen. And don’t forget to work with the host city to hang welcome banners at the airport and around town. Conference attendees might also welcome a farewell desk in the hotel lobby to help them in case they need to store luggage, change a plane ticket or get a quick taxi ride to the airport so they won’t miss a flight. As attendees depart, present them with a Save the Date magnet that features a photo of next year’s convention city and meeting dates.
Amp Up Networking
Make it easier for your attendees to network. After all, surveys tell us it is a top reason people attend meetings. Examine every aspect of your conference, and find ways to promote networking without adding “networking” events. Do you always seat people in rows? Try circles, where face-to-face conversations will be easier and more natural. Get people’s faces out of their phones during breaks by supplying some fun — invite a therapy dog organization to add some puppy love, or hire a local artist to do a public performance. Set up simple games like cornhole, or as the Grand Wayne Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has done for several clients, put out some puzzles or even Legos. Kalahari Resorts suggests having a gaming center that uses virtual reality or offering a sampling of local foods during break times.
Make Gifts More Meaningful
With everyone Marie Kondo-ing their households, it might be time to stop the swag. Instead of giving away pens, shopping bags, T-shirts and other tchotchkes, send attendees home empty-handed but full of the good cheer that comes from helping others. Try to make your charitable efforts connect to what your organization stands for. For example, if your group is concerned with environmental causes, build a forest by planting one tree for each attendee through a gift to the Arbor Day Foundation. Or give attendees the chance to designate who benefits from a gift in their honor by providing a choice of several organizations. A religious conference could choose three local causes; for example, a group that fights hunger, a literacy program for kids and a jobs program for veterans. And, if your attendees would be crushed to go home empty-handed, be creative. How about a gift they could give to a child or grandchild? Or perhaps a local product, like candy, that would be easy for air travelers to transport and appreciated by all?
Make Small Moments Special
Add areas for relaxation and calm as attendees register or mill about between sessions. Contract with a company like The Active Workplace (theactiveworkplace.com), which can supply masseuses for chair massages or instructors for exercise or meditation sessions. Have a photo booth so friends and colleagues can snap a fun photo, which could also serve as their souvenir for the event. Almost every city has a photo booth vendor; check with the local CVB for ideas. Find ways to carve out areas for casual conversation at your conference. Work with your meeting venue to create a coffeehouse, a tearoom or an ice cream parlor on-site, spots where people can savor their free moments.
Celebrate Your Audience’s Differences
Typically, a conference audience is a combination of new and old. Think of ways to recognize both groups. Create some activities or events specifically for those who are attending your conference for the first time. Ask conference regulars who run, practice yoga or love coffee to invite others to join them on a run through a local park, a stretching session or a jaunt to a local coffee shop before or after the conference day. Use social media to promote small-group outings to museums, trivia nights or pub crawls. Make it fun and make it easy for newcomers to connect — if they don’t, they will be less likely to return. And recognize those who return year after year. Have special tags made to show how many years they’ve attended. Invite these regulars to special events where they might have the ear of a speaker or give them an important supporting role, like serving as a keynote speaker’s liaison or presenting an award at a closing dinner.