How to give your event guests the best first impression

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They say that first impressions are everything, and your event is no exception. Your guests’ arrival experience - from the moment they buy a ticket to the moment they enter the venue - is the most important part of setting your event up for success. When it comes to fundraising events especially, you want to create an environment that will put your guests in a giving mood! 

In this episode of the Elevate Your Event Podcast, Jeff, Lori, and Elise break down all the ways you can give a superb first impression. They tell stories about the checkin disasters they’ve seen at events, their best volunteer tips, and even when you should hand out name tags (the answer might surprise you!)

Get the information to your event guests ahead of time

Before your guests even arrive to your event, give them as much information as possible so they know what to expect and they feel comfortable with what they should do once they arrive. Here are a few common questions to answer before your event begins:

When should event guests arrive?

Is there parking?

Where should they park?

Is there valet parking?

What should they bring?

Do they need their ticket?

Do they need their wallet?

Do they need their phone?

Is there a coat check?

Is the bar hosted or is it a cash bar?

How long do guests have to check in before the official program begins?

What is the official event schedule for the evening?

A great way to communicate all of this is to get software that sends text messages to your guests leading up to, and throughout the course of the event. This way, you can send out relevant snippets of information that will be useful to your guests depending on what stage of the event they are in.

Have clear signage

Even if you have communicated via email or text before the event, your guests will still need some direction once they arrive at your venue. People feel much less stressed when they don’t have to guess which parking lot is closest to the event, or the entrance that will get them to the bar the fastest. Some venues will even have multiple events happening at the same time. You don’t want your gala guests walking into the Valley High Junior Prom instead of your fundraiser! Having clear signage and well-lit areas that point guests toward the event is sure to get them a good first impression.

Event Checkin Tips: Key Do’s and Don'ts

The checkin process can make or break your guest’s experience when they arrive to your event. Here are some things to plan out when setting up checkin:

Do consider placement 

Your checkin area needs to be easy to find, and should allow plenty of space for event guests to wait and mingle. Try to avoid having a line that makes your event guests wait outside. If this cannot be avoided, be prepared for weather and have umbrellas, heaters, coolers, etc. on hand. 

Press “play” on the episode above to hear Jeff’s story about a nightmare checkin placement!

Do organize the line

One of the best ways to give your event guests the best first impression is not to keep them waiting in long lines to get into the event itself. If you have a lot of guests checking in at the same time, use things like stanchions to keep your line organized and orderly.

Do have something event guests need

If you want to motivate guests to stop at your checkin table instead of skipping it and going straight to the bar, have something there that you guests will want or need. For example, you could have their drink tickets at checkin.

Don’t set up your checkin line alphabetically

Typically, setting up your lines alphabetically by last name creates a lob-sided checkin line. You may have dozens of people whose last names start with ‘L’ and zero people with a last name that starts with ‘X.’ If you have to organize by last name, take a look at the last names of all of your guests, and divide them accordingly so that there is an even flow of lines, and all the “Smiths” don’t have to wait longer than the guy with the unique last name.

Do a practice walk-through

Imagine yourself as your event guest and do a practice of their entire arrival process. Look at your event with a guest’s perspective and try to anticipate and prevent any hiccups in the arrival process.

Do have friendly and knowledgeable volunteers

There is no such thing as having too many volunteers at an event - especially at checkin! Place friendly and knowledgeable volunteers at the entrance and other key points of your venue to help direct and inform your guests. 

Remember to also assign volunteers where they are most comfortable. You don’t want a volunteer who is uncomfortable with technology to be manning a computer.

Tune in to the episode for more checkin do’s and don’ts, including bar placement and more volunteer tips.

Entertain your guests as they arrive

A sure-fire way to give the best first impression at your event, is to entertain your guests from the very start. Greet them with a signature cocktail or a glass of champagne, have a photo booth, or have TVs showing the big game. 

If your event is to raise money for a school program, have students playing in a string quartet, or working on art pieces. Give guests a preview of the event they’re arriving to, or something fun to look at as they arrive.

Be Mindful of your guests’ weekly schedules

Consider the day of the week you are holding your event. A five o’clock checkin on a work day is a bad idea! Not only will your guests run late, but you may have a very stressed group of people on your hands from having to get ready for your event in a short amount of time after getting off work. If your event is on a weekday, make it a more casual, less dressy event, and time your checkin as late in the day as possible. 

Elevate your VIP experience

While you want to give every guest a great first impression, VIP guests should be given special consideration. A VIP should never have to tell anyone they’re a VIP. Give your VIP guests their own entrance, their own name tag, and their own tables. Never make them wait in a checkin line, and give them something that signifies their status so that all event staff and volunteers know who the VIPs are.

If you want to give your guests the best first impression, consider these tips. Although some of these things are often overlooked, making sure that the arrival experience is top-notch will help ensure that people enjoy themselves throughout the entire evening. After all, you want to reward people for their generosity with a fun and enjoyable experience!

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