The 10 Types of Attendees You May Find at a Conference

Co-Author Melissa Peterson

The Mayo Medical Laboratories Education Department plans live educational conferences and events. Over the years, our team has grown accustomed to seeing certain “types” of attendees at each conference and has brainstormed various ways to accommodate them. We hope that our findings will benefit other planners in preparation for their next event. Whether you plan conferences or attend them, here are ten types of attendees you may encounter:

  1. The Negotiator: Raise your hand if you have attendees who ask for a reduced or complimentary registration fee. This is the conference attendee we like to refer to as “the negotiator.” These attendees will do everything in their power to make sure they are getting some sort of discount. While not all budgets may allow for it, offering a promotional code to attendees who register early is a great solution and is an easy way to increase attendance. Be sure to act fast, as these promotions should only be offered for a limited time.
  2. The Early Bird: Regardless of what time check-in is, there is always at least one attendee who will show up early. In order to accommodate this type, be sure the room is set and ready at least one hour in advance. Having the room set up early offers the “early birds” a place to sit while they wait for others to arrive. Soft seating or lounge furniture near your registration area is another option. Additionally, consider setting your beverage station for the meeting at least 30 minutes prior to check-in. If you have early birds in attendance, chances are you have coffee drinkers too. Having coffee available early is the key to this flock’s heart.
  3. The Food Critic: Many times, participants will comment on how wonderful everything tasted and are very appreciative of the available options. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees. For example, one attendee may comment how much he/she appreciates all of the healthy food options available, and another may complain about there being too many sweets. By offering “buffet style” meals, which include sweet, salty, and healthy options, attendees will have a larger variety of food from which to choose. This allows the food critics to select the items they prefer and may get you closer to a five-star rating.
  4. The Beverage Bandit: This type of attendee takes full advantage of bottled water and sodas available at the conference. You will find this attendee with multiple beverages at any given time or with “extra” bottles of water shoved in his/her bag when the meeting adjourns. It’s smart for the attendee to take advantage of complimentary beverages—we get it. However, it’s not helpful to your bottom line or budget as the planner. How can you combat the beverage bandit? Try offering pitchers of water at each table or canisters of water on beverage stations in the back of the room. For attendees who like a little flavor, fruit-infused water stations are another great option. Additionally, request to be charged on-consumption or have the beverage station pulled an hour before the meeting is over so that you don’t get caught red-handed for any unused beverages.
  5. The SDA (Special Dietary Attendee): Not to be confused with the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), the following “regulations” or suggestions may be used to guide planners with their food and beverage selections. Most conferences include individuals who require some sort of special dietary accommodations. This includes people with specific cultural beliefs, those who have allergies, or they have a personal preference (e.g., gluten-free, vegetarian, paleo). Be sure to plan ahead and ask the attendees upon registration if they have any dietary restrictions that you should be aware of. This will help you make your food and beverage selections for the entire program. It’s also important to have the banquet staff label each item clearly. Labeling items appropriately will ensure these attendees don’t have anything to sneeze about.
  6. Conference Crasher: Many times conferences are held in public venues that tend to have high foot traffic. Be on the lookout for the “conference crasher” who may be looking for freebies. They tend to gravitate toward things that are left out, such as food or exhibit items. Laptops don’t have legs of their own, but that doesn’t mean they can’t walk away from events. Make sure you always have someone at your registration desk keeping an eye on things. Speak with your venue representative ahead of time about having security measurements put in place and request keys to each room you are using during the event. Taking these precautions will help eliminate any “plus ones” at your event.
  7. The Temperature Tattler: One person at the conference may be too cold, but the next person is too hot, and you are sure to hear about it. If you receive multiple complaints, you should check with your venue contact and request the temperature be turned up or down accordingly. Additionally, it may be helpful to remind attendees to dress in layers ahead of time in order to avoid what we refer to as, “the Goldilocks’ effect.” Hopefully, this will prevent you from taking the heat at your next event.
  8. The Note Taker: There’s always at least one or two attendees who want to take notes on every presentation. Why not make things easier on them? Create a conference app that can be downloaded by attendees. With an app, you can include everything from individual presentations and speaker bios to the entire conference agenda, complete with meeting room locations. Attendees are able to type notes directly on presentations through the app. Your paper trail stops here.
  9. The Stowaway: “Can you please watch my luggage?” “Do you mind if I keep my laptop back there and charge it?” If these questions sound familiar, then you have “stowaways” in attendance. These attendees like to keep everything behind the registration desk so that they don’t have to keep track of it. For the stowaway, it is essential that you offer charging stations in break areas throughout the meeting by setting up tables with power strips. For added awareness, you can preprint table tents labeled “charging station.” It is also a good idea to arrange a designated luggage or storage area with the venue that can be locked. Make sure attendees know that they are responsible for their personal items. Carry on with your event—without watching others’ carry-ons.
  10. The Complimentary Crowd: These are the attendees that are thankful and appreciative for the wonderful conference that you have planned and take the time to tell you. The “complimentary crowd” will offer praises verbally or will provide high ratings through an evaluation. If you’ve put the above suggestions in place, then you will likely have a complimentary crowd that follows. Don’t forget that the good always outweighs the bad, and if you’ve done your job well, then the feedback you receive from attendees will be positive. We hope these attendees account for the majority of the audience at your next conference.


Melissa Peterson is an Education Specialist at Mayo Medical Laboratories. She plans and facilitates both live and online education programs. Melissa has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2014.

Heidi Zunker

Heidi Zunker is an Education Program Manager at Mayo Medical Laboratories. She plans and facilitates both live and online education programs. Heidi has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2012. Outside of work, Heidi can be found organizing events, spending time with family, and chasing around her two little boys.