While some attendees are thrilled at the idea of going to a conference, others may dread it because they don’t know what to expect or don’t know anyone else who’s attending. Here’s a look at what you can do to calm their nerves.
Last week, I was pointed to a blog post by Amanda Kaiser, which talked about reducing nervousness to increase conference engagement. She focused on how, as a speaker, she appreciates when conference hosts do their part to make her and other presenters feel comfortable. One example she gave was having an AV pro in the room before a session to make sure all the technology is working.
“A speaker that feels confident that the technology is going to work makes a better presentation,” she wrote. “A speaker that knows what to expect is a better speaker.”
She made the same point about attendees: Those who don’t have to worry about the small stuff can open themselves up to enjoying the experience.
And she’s right. The thought of attending a conference strikes fear in some people’s hearts.
Not because they’re dreading learning or hearing from industry experts. They may be anxious because they don’t know what to expect, or because they don’t know a single other person attending, or because they are worried about getting burned out or being able to focus on the conference when they have work and family stuff on their mind.
So, what can an association do to help reduce attendee anxiety and allay any fears they have?
Before the conference, start by providing some insight on what to expect. You might create a simple web page that lists tips and tricks to help attendees make the most of their time onsite—as the Florida Recreation & Park Association does for its first-timers. Or you could do something more interactive, such as host a preconference webinar or conference call, to give attendees a rundown of must-dos. One example: The Public Library Association posted an on-demand webinar that participants could watch ahead of the PLA 2018 Conference to plan for making the most of their time in Philadelphia.
But even if you prepare your attendees ahead of time, that doesn’t mean you should just throw them to the wolves once they arrive at the meeting.
One popular way that associations help attendees onsite is by hosting conference buddy programs. Take the Society of American Archivists. At its upcoming 2018 Joint Annual Meeting, SAA’s Navigator Program will match conference veterans with first-time attendees. Navigators share their experiences, advise newbies on sessions and special events likely to match their interests, and facilitate networking with other attendees. SAA also has a lunch buddy program to help students, new archivists, and first-timers network with colleagues and mentors.
You can also consider setting up locations where solo attendees can meet before large events, so that, for example, they don’t have to walk into the opening reception alone.
A final tip for alleviating attendee anxiety: Don’t overschedule them. What does that mean? Don’t expect your attendees to be in a constant stream of education and networking from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Everyone needs a break, and your conference should carve out some time to let attendees recharge and relax. Some organizations, like the Healthcare Financial Management Association, even provide a relaxation lounge where attendees can go to have some quiet time, sip some lemonade, and get a chair massage.
What does your association do to help attendees relax and to eliminate any anxiety they may have about attending? Please share in the comments.