Meetings

Your Long-Time Attendees Matter Too

By / Dec 6, 2013 (iStock/Digital Vision)

Associations can get caught up in engaging first-time attendees, but long-time attendees are just as important and worthy of recognition. Engaging them and allowing them to share their knowledge may make their next meeting the best one yet.

A few weeks back I blogged about how associations can go about perfecting the first-time-attendee experience at their meetings and events. But that doesn’t mean they should rest on their laurels when it comes to long-time attendees. In fact, it’s likely these seasoned attendees will spread the word of your event to others and encourage them to attend. But these attendees may also expect different networking opportunities or education offerings at your meetings. Following are five ways your association can celebrate its veteran attendees and deliver on their expectations:

It’s likely these seasoned attendees will spread the word of your event to others and encourage them to attend.

Offer Higher-Level Education

This one’s a given. Your long-time attendees are pretty much guaranteed to hold more senior-level or executive positions within your industry or profession. That means they also want—and need—learning opportunities that match up to those levels. Perhaps consider holding an executive learning sessions at some of your meetings or events. For example, the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship offers an Executive Leadership Track at its Summit Conference.

Give Them the Opportunity to Give Back

ASAE’s Decision to Volunteer study showed that older professionals are most interested in passing on their knowledge and expertise to others in the industry, which can often be accomplished through volunteering. Why not give them the opportunity to do this at your meetings and events? You can offer these long-time attendees the chance to serve as either conference mentors or conference buddies to first-time attendees, or you could have them moderate a welcome reception for first-timers before the conference begins. This is a great way to have members across generations get to know and learn from one another.

Promote Peer-to-Peer Learning

This is something myself and other bloggers have mentioned before: The need to move away from the traditional expert-driven education model and toward a participant-based one, where attendees learn from one another. While this learning model doesn’t only work for your seasoned attendees, they may benefit the most from it. They’ve worked in the industry for a while now and have likely dealt with various challenges and changes along the way. Learning and talking with their peers and sharing “war stories” would likely be a compelling reason to attend your conference or meeting. After all, how often is it that your attendees get to sit in a room and pick the brains of others who share similar careers and deal with common issues?

Let Them See the Work in Action

Here’s an idea that will get your attendees out of the conference setting and into the offices of local attendee. Perhaps you can set up times where these attendees can visit those in the area who do similar work to them, have lunch, and talk some about the challenges and opportunities your organization’s industry is facing. This takes peer-to-peer learning to another level.

Acknowledge and Thank Them

You no doubt have some attendees who’ve been going to your annual meeting for 5, 10, 15, even 25 years. Why not take the time to thank them for being there time and time again? You can print their names in the conference program, have your CEO mention them in opening remarks, or spotlight them on your conference website or in your convention daily. Another easy thing to do: Offer badge ribbons that say something along the lines of “10-Year Attendee” or “Most Valuable Attendee.”

How does your organization go about welcoming, engaging, and educating your long-time attendees? Or if you’re a long-time attendee of a meeting or conference, what keeps you coming back? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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