Over the past couple of weeks, our colleagues, Joann and Molly, have taken you on a walk down memory lane and examined how participant support has changed over the years through eCommunication and web and phone and email. For the final installment of our “Then vs. Now” series, we’ll examine what we’ve learned over the years about connecting with our participants in person.

Despite the prevalence of social media, email and cell phones in our lives, we all know that face-to-face interaction is still invaluable, and is an experience that just can’t be replicated through a computer or over a phone line. Forging truly meaningful connections with others (including our participants) so often happens in person. 

Though in-person interaction hasn’t changed with the times the way other forms of communication have evolved with advances in technology, we’ve still picked up some important lessons over the years. Here are three of them:

Come to the people. Don’t always expect them to come to you.
For many years, the cornerstone of our pre-season event recruitment was the all-important information meeting. We understood that if we could simply get prospective participants in a room with one of our coaches, the enthusiasm for our event would be contagious – and conversions would soar. And we were right; we saw year after year that that attendees who left these meetings without registering for the event were few and far between.

However, a huge factor in the success of an info meeting is the number of prospective participants that attend; and with the ever-increasing speed of daily life, not everyone has the time. The easy solution: diversify! Offer a variety of opportunities for your prospective and current participants to connect with you – and do it on their own turf when possible. Casual coffee chats, training walks/runs, and happy hours have all been successful methods of getting important face time with our current and future participants. Having a coach or staff member attend team fundraisers or team-organized training events makes it as easy as possible for your dedicated participants to connect with you, get questions answered, and get excited about your event. 

Acknowledge and leverage the knowledge, experience and passion of your longtime participants.
Any successful event that’s been around for more than a year or two is bound to have a core group of dedicated participants who mark event day on their calendars a year in advance. (In permanent red ink.) The knowledge and passion of these loyal participants is like gold and should be treated as such.

For the first-time participant who is nervous about your event or needs some encouragement, there is nothing quite like the opportunity to speak with someone who has been there before. And there’s no better sales pitch for your event than the stories of a participant who recommits year after year. Local event staff can only reach so many people. So it’s vital to empower and equip your longtime participants to successfully promote and recruit for your event through their own networks. 

Make it easy for your participants to connect with you on event.
When the big day of your event finally rolls around, there will likely be participants that are excited to meet the local staff; sometimes to give a big hug, sometimes to give feedback. Either way, it’s important to make it easy for them to find you in the midst of all the bustling activity.

One strategy we’ve recently employed is to choose a time and place at the event where participants can stop by for a meet-and-greet with their coach or local staff member(s). Be sure to message this to the participants in advance via email, website, social media – or all three. And, make sure your coach/staff is easy to spot, whether it be with signage (coroplast on a stick will always do the trick!) or a clearly-marked piece of apparel (armband, button, t-shirt).  

We all know there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction. So make sure you’re making the most of yours. Your participants will thank you.

When not playing the role of participant in everything from 5ks to marathons, Cheryl works as Event 360’s Programs Manager, helping to deliver a meaningful event experience to others. As a seasoned Susan G. Komen 3-Day® coach, Tara regularly connects with event participants in the role of Field Marketing Coordinator in Atlanta, GA.

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