First impressions count for a lot and welcome staff have a really important role to play in the event’s success. They are in charge of the attendees’ first experience of the event, they represent the day and ultimately they represent the end client.
As an attendee I expect those greeting me to be knowledgeable and friendly – they aren’t just there to tick off a name and hand over a badge. They’re there to introduce attendees to the event, set the scene and answer any questions delegates might have. Of course, there are some weird and wonderful questions (and we’ve all had them) that you can’t prepare for, but starting the day off on the right foot is pretty easy to get right.
One thing I see a lot of is brands using volunteers to greet people and, while I don’t have a fundamental problem with this, they’re often under-briefed and don’t look particularly interested. If you’re going to use volunteers, please use the ones that have a vested interest in the event and take the time to brief them properly.
I’ve turned up at too many events where the welcome staff haven’t had a clue what was going on and would rather be looking down at their phone. Once I asked what I thought was a simple question (where the main room was) to be met with a blank face and an unsure response tarred with an air of inconvenience. If it wasn’t for the branding everywhere I’d probably have thought I was in the wrong place. I want the people welcoming me at the event to be the embodiment of the day and it’s hard to expect them to be that if they just turn up and put a branded t-shirt on.
As an event planner, I make sure that I hold a briefing with staff both prior to the event and on the day. I take the time to make sure they understand the event as a whole and the impact of what they do on the delegate’s experience.
Before the event, I’ll brief the greeters in person if possible or hold a phone conference, I’ll also email out briefing notes which I’ll then use as the basis for the on-the-day briefing. On the day I go through FAQs and create an interactive exercise where the staff greeting attendees look at the event from the delegates’ point of view to discover what they might want to know. We discuss the response as a group and move on to the next query. It’s simple, but it works.
It all leads to organisers needing to be aware of the impact on the event if the checking-in process isn’t given the attention it deserves. I’m aware that using volunteers is tempting because employing staff is costly, but as an industry we need to be thinking about the bigger picture. A bad experience means delegates are less likely to come back next time, and that doesn’t sound like a way to save money.
Despite some less than great experiences, I have also had some really good experiences with being welcomed at an event. Staff, whether part of the organising team or a volunteer, have gone that extra mile, taking the time to have a quick chat with me or explain where I can grab a cup of coffee and hang my coat. And it’s those small gestures that make all the difference.
I want the industry to stop and take a look at who is welcoming their attendees, how well they’re briefed and what impact it has on the event. There’s a reason that we don’t just have self-scan ticket machines at events: it’s because human interaction has the potential to add a personal touch that can’t be recreated and it’s an opportunity for us to make our events stand out, in a positive way.