No matter what your preference, being new to an organization or attending a conference where you literally know no one, or maybe just a handful of people can be daunting. Some simple acts of kindness by current members can make a huge difference to a newcomer. This summer, I attended my first National Speakers Association conference. I knew a few people because I am a member of our local chapter but with 1,600 people in attendance, even I, a certified 100% extrovert was feeling a bit overwhelmed when I arrived. A few months before the conference, I’d been speaking with a professional colleague I’d never met from another city. When I mentioned that I’d be attending the conference for the first time, she offered to be my “buddy”. The first night at the opening session we found each other and I sat with her and a few colleagues she introduced me to. She even invited me out to dinner that first night with her colleagues. Having someone offer to be my buddy provided some initial comfort to me. It helped me feel less alone in a sea of people I didn’t know.
Welcome the newcomer. Whether you are at a conference or a meeting everyone loves to be greeted by a smiling stranger who helps you through the moments of disorientation, and who’s approachable enough that you feel like you can also ask questions.
Ways to Welcome Newcomers
- Create a special name tag to help identify first timers at your meeting or a conference. Anyone can welcome a newcomer whether it’s their assignment or not. This also helps first timers bond when they meet and know someone else is also attending for the very first time.
- If you’ve never identified newcomers before, include or announce it from the stage to encourage others to welcome the first timers. For conferences, include this information in your welcome package or conference schedule. This begins to create a conference culture that doesn’t put all the responsibility on the new attendee.
- Conferences can also have a first timer break out session at the beginning of the event Let the new attendees know what to expect.
- Offer a welcome reception the first night as well. Finding a few familiar faces at the beginning of the conference can help newcomers feel like they have others just like themselves.
- Have a section of the room or special table(s) marked for newcomers at the first couple of meals so newcomers don’t feel like everyone has a seat and they don’t. Assign a board member to be the table captain.
Action: Make it a new policy when there’s a newcomer in your midst to welcome them and show them the ropes, whether you are appointed to or not. This simple act of kindness is easy to do but makes a big impact. Offer to be a “buddy” at an upcoming conference or event. I plan to do this myself next year.