It was turning out to be the business trip from hell, until the conference planners did one very special thing.
My last minute decision to attend a conference in Chicago seemed like a sound idea. However, as a seasoned traveler I knew scheduling a business trip on short notice can be fraught with challenges. Nevertheless, the conference was the perfect opportunity to meet with colleagues working on a similar project in a non-competing market. It was one of those rare chances to speak freely with peers and exchange good advice.
My traveling troubles began with securing air transportation (two plane changes, one with a three hour layover), then moving on to a mad rush to make a connecting flight (which I missed). Next up was two hours spent tracking down a lost piece of luggage I was cajoled into checking on my first flight. Ground transportation was no problem, but a reservation snafu at the hotel resulted in me being billeted in a room directly above a courtyard where several particularly noisy wedding reception guests gathered to smoke and hold an impromptu after party.
Thoroughly worn out I climbed atop the bed fully clothed, dreading what other unwelcomed surprises awaited. I drifted off until I heard a knock at my door. Startled, I looked at the clock, only 20 minutes had passed. Who, I wondered, knew I’d finally arrived? And, why would someone dare disturb my slumber after such an exhausting trip? I answered the door. A smartly dressed porter handed me a gift bag. It was the kind of thing I usually take home to give to my wife or teenage daughters.
As I placed the bag on the desk I noticed it held a small, handwritten envelope addressed to me. The note inside said: “So happy to hear you arrived safely and have checked into your room. We look forward to seeing you tomorrow morning. If there is anything you need please do not hesitate to call me, here is my cell number.” It was signed by the meeting planner.
Even for a meetings veteran like me, that simple note was a thoughtful welcome. It set the tone for a productive, professionally planned conference. And, I’m happy to report my trip home was thankfully uneventful.
Jody Urguhart, a motivational speaker and meetings blogger shares ways to make first time conference attendees feel welcome. “Some conferences neglect making special efforts to welcome first time conference delegates. This is a mistake as new blood in an organization is critical to innovation and future success” writes Urguhart.
Here are some other things you can do to show appreciation to your first time attendees:
- Hold a welcome reception – encourage newcomers to get to know each other.
- Have an orientation that focuses on the goals of the meeting including helping attendees decide on what are the best workshops and speakers for them.
- Create first time attendee badges. Encourage veterans to break the ice with the newcomers.
- Send a special email to first time attendees, or even call them.
- Similarly, send a custom message to the same group thanking them for coming to the conference.
- After the show, solicit newbies for specific opinions about the conference – speakers, the venue, and so forth.
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