Using a Welcome Wagon to Help First-Time Conference Attendees

You walk into the room and you’re wearing the wrong thing. Everyone else is dressed casually, but you are not. You feel silly and find the quickest excuse to leave the situation. This is an example of a common situation: not knowing what is expected of you when you enter a new place.

It’s stressful to enter a new group without knowing what to expect. It breeds anxiety and self-doubt, and makes it much less likely you’ll join any activities.

At Write the Docs, we’re working to make the community easier to join because we want everyone to feel welcome. We do this with the Welcome Wagon program, which helps attendees at both the planning and the attending stages of the conference. We hope that this breaks down barriers to help them get the most value from our community.

Welcome Wagon Guide

One major part of the Welcome Wagon is our guide. It documents how to successfully navigate our community. It’s basically a User Guide for the conference. It covers:

  • Common questions, like “How do I take part in the unconference?” and “Where is everything?”
  • How to plan your time at the conference
  • What is expected of you while you’re at the conference
  • Tips and tricks for having the best time at the event

We answer attendees most common questions before the event, making expectations more explicit and enabling people to focus on enjoying their time instead of spending it worrying. This reduces anxiety and also makes it more likely that people will have a good first experience with our community.

Welcome Wagon Events

The second major part of the Welcome Wagon is a set of events at the conference itself. We have a team who are the humans who are the “Welcome Wagon”, and they lead the Welcome Wagon events at the conference. You will find their pictures in the guide to make it easy to recognize them at the event.

Currently we:

  • Provide an introduction the evening before the conference
  • Give venue tours the evening before and the morning of the conference
  • Invite the attendees to ask the Welcome Wagon team questions any time throughout the conference

The goal of these events is to introduce the Welcome Wagon team to people, as well as to explain how the conference and community work. Attendees can ask the Welcome Wagon team questions throughout the conference, because they know their faces and that they will be helpful.

Run a Welcome Wagon

If you’re curious about how to run a Welcome Wagon at your conference, you’re in luck. We have a organizer guide that explains how to do it.

We strongly believe that iteration across a number of events and perspectives are the best way to make great things. So if you adopt a similar program at your conference we’d love to hear about it. We are always open to feedback and ideas to make the program better as well.

You can also look at our examples from our 2019 conferences in order to get a better idea:

Credits

I wrote this blog post, but the Welcome Wagon wasn’t my idea. It was created by Christy Lutz and Leona Campbell at our Portland conference. We have been working to refine it over the years, and I’m just hoping to promote it so other people can learn from our work.



Hey there! I'm Eric and I work on communities in the world of software documentation. Feel free to email me if you have comments on this post!