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5 Tips for Engaging with First-Timers at Annual Events

24 April 2024

No matter what kind of yearly event you’re planning, every attendee matters. However, walking into an unfamiliar setting for the first time can be especially daunting — so engaging well with first-time attendees can set the tone for their entire relationship with you. As Destination Management Companies (DMCs) consider how to effectively engage with first-timers at annual events, it’s important to remember that although they’re newcomers today, they can become loyal attendees and even leaders in the future! 


DMCs play a pivotal role in creating and delivering memorable experiences. As you attempt to give every guest an incredible experience at your event, you can craft an event that helps first-timers feel welcomed and at ease – and you can even use your returning attendees to help! This event planning checklist will help you exceed expectations with your first-time attendees.

Communicate well from the first moment.

Before your event, as most do, consider adding a “first-time” box attendees can select as they register. This allows you to keep a list of first-timers and provide them with additional information before the event begins. If you’re communicating with your attendees via email, you can send tailored content to first-time guests to help them know what to expect and feel welcomed before they even arrive. 

Provide resources.

As you consider what to communicate with first-timers before your event, take a mental walk through the event itself. What will be unfamiliar or potentially confusing for them? By preemptively answering questions, you can eliminate anxiety and frustration for your new guests, and instead greet them with care and intentionality. Some resources to consider creating include: 

  • A blog post — If your event has a website with blog functionality, write a blog titled, “What to Expect at…” or “Know Before You Go”, then send that link to new registrants. 
  • A webinar — If you don’t have a website or blog, or you prefer video content, consider a live Zoom chat or recorded webinar for first-time attendees to watch before their arrival. 
  • A tip sheet — Created a branded document to hand out at registration as first-time guests arrive. Even with excellent communication ahead of time, many attendees will love having a tangible resource to refer to as they navigate the event.

Give an enthusiastic welcome. 

As first-timers arrive, make sure to greet them with enthusiasm! Those few first moments can do a lot to set their minds at ease and help them relax heading into the event. Perhaps you want to create name badges with “first-time” designations or have a special welcome gift for newcomers as they check-in. No matter what kind of welcome you choose, make sure that your registration team asks everyone, “Is this your first time?” This will allow them to take extra care with new guests and answer any questions that arise. 

Host a special event. 

Often, first-time attendees would love to connect with other newcomers and form new friendships throughout the event! In order to foster these connections, consider hosting a “newcomers only” style event. The exclusivity adds a fun touch, and it provides you with a great opportunity to invest in these new relationships, hopefully turning them into long-time loyal returners. There are many options, including: 

  • An orientation — This special session can offer first-timers a chance to learn more about the hosting organization and ask questions in a more intimate environment. 
  • A guided tour — If your event takes place on a sprawling site or on the grounds of the hosting organization, consider showing newcomers around! 
  • An exclusive reception — If you’re hosting a multi-day event, a special cocktail party or reception on the first evening can give newcomers a chance to connect and relax. You can also consider inviting guests of honor or keynote speakers to provide some real exclusivity! 
  • A newcomers’ lounge — If your event is large, a newcomers’ lounge can help attendees find other first-timers, especially if they’ve already gotten to meet on a webinar or during an orientation. 
  • A team-building or CSR activity — This provides newcomers with a welcoming environment to immerse themselves in a fun activity, fostering camaraderie alongside experienced attendees. By aligning with the goals of team-building or corporate social responsibility (CSR), participants can find common ground and purpose, easing any apprehension associated with engaging in extroverted social interactions.

Connect them with others in the industry.

If welcoming newcomers feels like an added stressor, don’t worry. Instead, enlist the help of your returning attendees to share the load and make sure every first-timer feels seen and welcomed. You can facilitate this by creating a “buddy system,” allowing returning attendees to match with a first-timer. If you’re able, facilitate matches based on age, interests, role, or career stage. You can even connect each match before the event begins so that they can make a plan to meet once they arrive. 


If you’re hosting multiple organizations or associations, consider creating space for each one to meet. There are many benefits to belonging to an industry association — and having built-in community and camaraderie might just be top of the list at annual events! Encourage newcomers who may be attending an event to look for those they may know from their industry association. 


A DMC Can Help You Welcome Newcomers

If you’re hosting an annual event, a Destination Management Company can assist you in coordinating countless aspects of event planning — from logistical details to team building and CSR activities — ensuring that every attendee, especially first-timers, experiences those special touches that make the event memorable! At ADMEI, you’ll find an extensive list of experienced DMC professionals. Find a DMC partner near you and take your annual event to the next level this year — for every guest, but especially for brand-new attendees. 

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