Volunteers are a free workforce that make the event world go round! But they also show up untrained, which isn’t exactly awesome. Most events only have a short window to prepare their volunteers before it starts. The best way to ensure that your volunteers are effective is to plan for this training in advance. When done right, it will ensure they are happy and ready to rock for showtime. So without further ado, here are some tips to get you started…
Give them a cheat sheet to reference
You have a complex schedule, six wristband colors, four keynote speakers, and three meal options. Do your volunteers a favor and write it all down. Keep it short, clear and concise. Charts and keys are better than lengthy sentences. You want to make it fast and easy for volunteers to confirm they are giving your attendees the correct information.
Have meals served in close proximity to where they are working
Fed volunteers are happy volunteers. Meals are a great way to show that you value and appreciate them. However, if you have a meal for them onsite, make sure it’s in a location close to their posts. You don’t want them getting lost or worse, getting distracted during their breaks. Volunteers represent your event so prevent an aimless stroll by having an intentional place for them to eat.
Use the buddy system
On the same note, you can prepare them for their breaks by pairing them up during the training. Avoid an attendee having to wait for direction because the volunteer took an unscheduled bathroom break. How embarrassing! The buddy system ensures that all posts are covered - lunch, dinner, or potty time.Note: You don’t need twice the volunteers to make the buddy system effective. If pairing them up causes you to run short, re-think the placement so they can float back and forth.
Have a point person for detail-oriented tasks
If you need to train volunteers on something that requires technology and/or multiple steps, have a point person they can direct questions to onsite. Meet with this point person ahead of time and thoroughly train them on the product/process. Empower them to answer any question you can think of, and clearly communicate what you need from them. They will field questions and problem-solve in your place, freeing you to handle more important event details.
Volunteers will go above and beyond when they know they are valued. Don’t just say a hurried thank you into a microphone and think that’s enough. Buy them a meal or a small gift. Give them free merchandise. Discount their tickets if they are also attending the event. Give them a shout out and some applause from the stage. Any or all of these will go a long way in bringing out the best in the people who cared enough to give their time and energy to your event.
Just because you say it doesn’t mean it was communicated. People learn best when you tell them a variety of ways. Use slides or handouts. Bring examples of whatever items might apply to the training. Act out scenarios! Don’t be afraid to make it silly, fun is easier to remember!
Also, visuals are a great way to communicate a volunteer’s schedule to them, which won’t match the attendee schedule in most cases.
Give praise & prizes to returning volunteers
Your most valuable volunteer is the returning volunteer. Not only do they know what to expect and where things are, but they also believe in the event enough to return to help. That’s huge! Take some time to recognize and appreciate the pros. They might even return a third and fourth time!
Plan a single way to communicate changes
Lastly, and possibly most important, make sure you have one channel with which to communicate changes. The only constant in event planning is change. Something will happen that will cause the volunteers to have to adapt. It doesn’t matter the method, but make sure you include the way you’ll communicate in the training itself. Trust us, this will be a lifesaver.