While an attendee’s experience is typically thought to be the responsibility of the meeting pros who put it together, their managers can also help make their time onsite more valuable. Some ideas for getting managers more involved.
A lot of responsibility for creating a memorable and worthwhile experience for attendees falls on the event pros and other staffers and vendors who are behind the scenes selecting the venue, speakers, and other logistics.
But did you ever consider the role that an attendee’s manager, who likely determines if their employees should attend your conference, plays in getting them prepared to have a successful onsite experience?
I hadn’t, until I came across a recent Inc. “Ask a 20-Something” column.
The question came from a manager who overheard some younger employees complaining that the conferences they were attending were “boring and pointless.” The manager wanted to know how to help them become more enthusiastic about going to industry events.
Columnist Cameron Albert-Deitch offered the manager a three-part plan that I thought was great. The first part is to make sure employees will find the programming interesting or professionally beneficial. “This involves playing a little bit of matchmaker, knowing your employees and identifying the kinds of experiences they’d need or enjoy,” he writes.
Part two—my personal favorite—is to help employees develop a game plan for their onsite experience. For example, if the employee is overwhelmed by the social aspect and by having too many options to choose from, Albert-Deitch suggests helping them draft a specific schedule for each day or role-playing how to walk up to a stranger and start a conversation. “If you help prepare them for the experience, they’ll get a lot more out of it,” he writes.
The third part is to send multiple employees to the same conference. “If you pair an established staffer with a younger employee, you create a great mentoring opportunity,” Albert-Deitch writes. “And if you send a group of inexperienced workers together, they’ll help one another figure out the ropes (and bond a bit, too).”
Of course, part three is a strategy that associations will get behind since it means more attendees and revenue for their conferences. But how might associations better support parts one and two?
When it comes to part one, from a marketing perspective, it may make sense to reach out to your industry’s leaders and lay out the reasons why they should be sending their staff to your conference.
As for part two, several approaches could work. For example, many associations produce justification toolkits to help employees make the case to their boss that they need to attend a conference. But there may be some benefit in creating a toolkit that helps supervisors prepare their employees for the onsite experience or helps them lay out to employees the outcomes they’re likely to receive from attending.
While associations are known to have conference mentoring programs where staff pair seasoned professionals with first-time attendees, what if you incorporated an attendee’s manager into the process? For instance, your association could suggest a few mentors for the manager’s employee, and the manager could then choose the person who would be the best fit based on what they know about their employee’s goals.
You could also host a preconference webinar that managers and employees would attend together, where your team could provide information that would empower them to set up that game-plan conversation.
How do you think your association could help managers better prepare their employees for your conference? Please share in the comments.