For its first meeting coming out of the pandemic in November 2021, the American Headache Society wanted to make sure attendees felt connected at the event.
“We’re a subset of neurology, and many attendees have known each other for years, sometimes even before medical school,” said Darryl Diamond, associate director of meetings at AHS. “So, it can be difficult for first-time attendees, especially for those coming in after 2020.”
To help first timers, AHS created and launched its Plenary Pals program, which matches newbies with seasoned attendees. Prior to the conference, experienced attendees receive their pal’s contact information and are encouraged to reach out to them to answer questions.
Programs like AHS’ help alleviate first-time attendee anxiety and allow them to arrive onsite knowing one person, helping them get a head-start on building industry connections.
“Many large-scale association meetings are designed around content rather than connection,” said Lee Gimpel, founder and principal of Better Meetings. “A networking coffee break or first-time reception isn’t always enough.”
Knowing that attendees are looking to get to know their colleagues and develop relationships with them onsite, associations must design a program that prioritizes connection and keeps them coming back year after year.
Make It Comfortable
Developing new relationships at annual meetings isn’t always easy and doesn’t come without effort.
“When you boil it down, adults in their 40s and 50s are very much like kids in first grade: It’s hard to walk into a room and make new friends, it doesn’t happen magically,” Gimpel said.
According to Diamond, AHS’ buddy program has been a great way for members to get to know one another before a conference so they feel more confident walking into a meeting where they don’t know anyone.
“You can see that comfort right away,” he said. “People are more likely to talk to exhibitors, participate in sessions, and ask questions in the app throughout the meeting.”