Adrian Segar of Conferences That Work recently shared a fantastic tip: use a buddy system to welcome conference newbies. While the terminology could use a bit of work, we love the idea of rewarding our most vocal attendees by helping them mentor and show around those who’re attending for the very first time.
Segar states that 25% of all conference attendees are newbies, which is a sizable enough chunk to make this a worthwhile effort. Done right, it could also save money on staff.
Similar to how many spring training facilities are run by volunteers, programs like this need to be set up and buddies/mentors must be vetted correctly for this to work as intended. No one wants to be paired with a guy that can’t stop talking about himself or his company.
Here’s what we would do:
Identify Your Most Vocal Supporters
If you don’t know who they are, start paying attention to those that frequently post online about your event, and the ones that seem to show up to every session at every conference. These people are likely interested in your event for far more than simply finding it a good value for their money, they hopefully believe in the overall cause.
Ask A Favor
While some event planners may find it useful to list the benefits of being a mentor, there’s one that stands out above the rest: to be respected by their peers. Yes, mentoring can help drive business, and yes, the buddy system can help attendees learn more about their industry, but looking at it solely in business terms won’t do much good to convince those qualified to lead others.
Try a checklist of recommended activities, points to cover, questions to ask and where to find more information instead of simply saying “show them around and answer their questions”. While mentors should be free to wander off script, having a script to bounce from will ease the anxiety they may have.
Reward Your Mentors
Publicly. Adorn their badge. Call them on stage. Give them free food. Have a special dinner. Don’t settle for a thank you and a gift certificate from a sponsor.
Third-time attendees who have previously been mentored are prime candidates for mentoring, as they’ve taught, they’ve experienced and now they should be brimming with knowledge to share.
By involving as many qualified attendees as possible, event planners are able to cultivate a higher degree of interaction among attendees. Nothing like taking ownership to convince attendees that they are part of your event, too.