Whether college students, professionals in between jobs or just a devoted attendee, event volunteers can make the difference between a successful (and profitable) conference and an event that turns out to be a lot of work with a limited payoff. But just securing the volunteers isn’t enough to ensure this difference. In fact, poorly managed volunteers can make a bad situation worse and quickly alert your attendees that your event is not the professional and well-oiled machine you want to project. As a veteran of planning, staffing and attending conferences, here are a few easy things you can do to get the most out of your volunteers regardless of their age, personality or familiarity with the event.
1. Take charge. Someone has to do it. Competent though your volunteers may be, it isn’t their responsibility to figure everything out on their own. Without leadership, volunteers can easily become like deer in the headlights, even at the most smoothly run events. This is particularly true if you’re using college students who may already be out of their element and a bit star-struck.
2. Project confidence. Even if you don’t know the answer to a volunteer’s question, make it clear you will find the answer and take care of any concerns they bring to you. If need be, fake it till you make it.
3. Be available. If you are splitting time between handling logistics and speaking or handling press, designate someone who will be available throughout and is competent to deal with any logistical issues. Make sure the volunteers know who this person is by face and name. And don’t assume that having walkie talkies is a guarantee that someone will be available to them.
4. Give clear and consistent direction. If you’re going to have a dress code, stick to it! Yes, you too. If you’ve assigned someone a task, don’t capriciously change your mind. Flexibility is crucial, but too much flexibility can easily be mistaken for being unprepared.
5. Write it down. The procedures and event layout may be second nature to you by now, but they probably aren’t to your volunteers. Even if something seems like common sense, don’t assume that’s the case for your volunteers. Providing written materials in advance and hard copies the day-of will be your saving grace and empowers your volunteers to handle things without having to grab you every time a registrant asks them a question. This is particularly true with technology. Wifi passwords and Eventbrite Entry logins should always be at hand.
6. Provide ample food, drinks and breaks. Trust me, volunteers will be much more pleasant and helpful to attendees if they aren’t starving. And its much easier to answer questions when your throat isn’t parched.
7. Give them something to do. Volunteers are giving you their time; don’t waste it. Disrespecting their time is probably the quickest way to turn advocates into enemies. And if you are lucky enough to have more volunteers than expected, who couldn’t use another set of hands checking in, directing people and tidying?
These types may seem obvious to some, but even seasoned event management people can forget the basics. Both attendees and volunteers notice and remember these things and with the plethora of conferences and events out there, you want to do whatever you can to make sure your event is a must-attend. And a seamless and well-run event is far more likely to make that list than one that is chaotic and disappointing.