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Roll Out the Welcome Mat for First-Time Attendees at Your Virtual Events

By / Apr 8, 2021 (monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

It’s important that first-timers attending your virtual events have a positive experience. Here are a few ideas to consider for welcoming newbies to your online conferences.

Since associations started hosting virtual events last year, many have seen record-breaking attendance. That’s because one of the benefits of online conferences is that they allow more people to participate, whether that’s due to a lower registration price point or the savings that come from not having to pay for a flight or hotel. In addition, you may have found that your virtual events have welcomed more new members or early-career professionals.

And while first-timer programs are staples of in-person events, associations must be just as intentional when it comes to creating a positive experience for first-timers attending their virtual conferences. Here a few ideas for welcoming them.

Take your conference buddy program virtual. Even though your event moved online, it doesn’t mean you have to eliminate your conference buddy program. You can still pair up first-timers with more seasoned attendees and encourage them to connect before the meeting via videoconference or phone to get to know each other. To keep conversations going during the meeting, you can also build time in at the start or end of the day to allow buddies to connect in your platform.

For example, NASPA’s 2021 Virtual Conference had a semi-structured mentor/mentee program where first-timers were paired with a mentor to help them navigate the virtual conference experience, get acquainted with all that NASPA offers, and gain knowledge on thriving in the profession and building a network. NASPA also has a conference blog that features several posts and resources for first-time attendees.

Give first-timers a virtual spot to connect and recharge. In-person conferences often include lounges for different segments of attendees to take a break for a few minutes and get to know their peers in a more casual environment.

Consider replicating this in your virtual platform. For instance, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists hosted an open Zoom room where first-time attendees could talk to one another, as well as members of AAOMPT’s membership committee and board. After the conference, the group held a virtual pub night for newbies where they could talk about their first AAOMPT Conference experience and share questions or comments.

Set up a welcome-call committee. Sometimes a quick phone call is all it takes to make someone feel welcome and ease any anxiety they have. That’s exactly what the National Council of University Research Administrators was going for when it recruited 30 volunteers to each call and welcome 10 new members or first-time attendees to its 2021 Pre-Award Research Administration Conference. Prior to the conference, these volunteers called newbies to answer questions and share their knowledge of the conference. And then they called again after the conference wrapped up to check in with them about their experience.

What have you done to welcome first-time attendees to your virtual conferences? Please share in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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