Imagine attendees leaving a conference feeling inspired, energized, and loved. They take with them a tool bag of resources as well as a new community willing to not only help them with tough problems but who also offer emotional support for the adventures ahead. What if these attendees leave ready to go out in the world to do their very best work?
This is exactly how I felt after 3-1/2 days of Camp GLP. Camp GLP is part conference and part intensive summer camp for entrepreneurs, artists and world shakers.
Last week an association professional and attendee of the wonderful Engaging Associations Forum said to me that she wasn’t sure if she should be taking notes on the conference content or taking notes on how they ran the conference. I feel the same about Camp GLP, the content was amazing but let’s talk about the thoughtful event organization because it was truly unique and impactful.
I get the feeling that the organizer, Stephanie Fields and her team, focused on more than what we association professionals focus on when we think about member benefits, the conference included. We talk a lot about what our members need to learn. The discussion centers around tracks, topics, trends and speakers. We talk a little about the member and attendee experience. But do we ever swing the conversation completely around and ask ourselves how our attendees will feel? How will they feel as they are planning? How will they feel as they are packing? How will they feel as they are walking down the concourse toward registration? How will they feel as they leave registration? How will they feel that night at the reception?
Conferences are not within most of our comfort zones. Many of us feel anxious about attending. Nervous about knowing where to go and how to make the most of our investment. Perhaps we feel downright uncomfortable about networking. Can conference hosts change anxious to excited, nervous to confident and uncomfortable to delighted? Yes, I’ve seen it done. And here are three borrowed ideas for you.
Set the Tone
Each week before camp I got an email. Each email was written just like you would write to a far away friend who you were planning a vacation with. “Sending you tons of love. Can’t wait to play at camp! Camp hugs” were sprinkled in the emails.
When I arrived volunteers raced out to my car with big smiles and welcomes and helped me with my luggage. We chatted about what to expect, where we were from and I felt like I had some new instant friends. The organizers set the tone and then we attendees ran with it. Everyone I met there was open, friendly, welcoming, and helpful in a way I have never seen at a conference and day after day it grew.
Rock the First Impressions
As soon as me and my helpers crossed the parking lot we were greeted by another team of welcomers and invited to make big bubbles. You know the kind; a vat of bubble-stuff and a rope hoop to make those 15-foot long bubbles. When there is something fun and interesting to do the nervousness vanishes. There’s also a bit of camaraderie formed through working together and cheering each other on.
Guide the Networking
And then there was the nighttime art party. This was my favorite part. We were guided down a candle lit path into a nearly candle it room where colored pencils, pastels and paints waited for us on every table. My drawings didn’t have to look especially artistic because we were guided through a series of fun and some profound group projects. Instead of standing in a freezing room, room-temperature wine in hand wondering which group to join, as happens in many networking events, this was completely different. My new friends and I laughed and talked and giggled at our stick figures. We were connecting in an important way without any of the awkward dance done at most networking events.
Now I know I’m full of bologna. Can you imagine our members hugging, blowing bubbles and coloring? Maybe not… or maybe. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make attendees feel welcome by setting the right tone, helping get them off to the best possible start by providing an amazing first impression or by facilitating connections with guided networking. As we go through this year’s conference planning let’s try to put ourselves in our members’ shoes and think about how they might feel during each interaction.
How do we anticipate those points of friction that empower the tiny internal critic and get rid of them? How can we get their conference experience off on the right foot? How can we guide them through the conference so at the end they leave ready to go do their best work?
Are you an entrepreneur, artist, maker and/or world shaker and think you may want to join me next year? Learn more about the fabulous Camp GLP by clicking the sign me up now button to join the mailing list.