How to Master the Art of Event RegistrationOctober 1, 2014

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October 1, 2014

How to Master the Art of Event Registration

Separate registration counters for different attendee types keeps the registration process moving in a fluid manner.

Registration counters for different attendee types keeps the registration process moving in a fluid manner.

Thompson,Erin-metroConnections-147x147Erin Thompson is the director, Attend-eSource Services for metroConnections. A longtime veteran of the meeting planning industry, Thompson has nearly a decade of experience in the hotel industry handling reservations, front desk activities and management. Her 14-year tenure at metroConnections has focused on attendee management services and the technologies that go into the management of those attendees. With offices in Minnesota and Florida, metroConnections translates business goals and key messages into informative and memorable events that engage, inspire and move attendees. www.metroConnections.com

Oftentimes, the most important details of an event are the most tedious to plan. The art of registration certainly falls in this realm as it is a process that needs to begin well before an event. Although most professional meeting planners recognize the importance of having the registration form available early, the planning often stops there until right before or even the day of the event, creating chaos and long registration lines. With a thorough planning process and review of best practices, your event registration process will run smoothly.

Understanding Registration

Too often, little thought is put into registration as a process except for actually gathering information about who is coming. However, a proper registration process has three phases:

  • Pre-Planning Phase is the process in which an event sets up an online registration to collect data and details from attendees.
  • Planning Phase is the process that involves attendees completing a registration form, providing the meeting planner with much needed information.
  • Event Execution Phase is the onsite act of attendees arriving to the venue/location to collect their registration material and to officially check-in to the event.

In the initial planning phase, the online event registration process should include all information that the planner will need to produce a successful event. Registration can include a variety of marketing-type questions if the meeting producer would like to tailor content based on attendees’ preferences. The online registration portal or forms should be available as soon as possible, especially when an event is open to customers, the general public, and/or it generates revenue.

“Recognizing that registering is frequently the FIRST experience the attendee will have, it sets the overall tone for the rest of event.”

The onsite execution phase also should be thought out well in advance. Recognizing that registering is frequently the FIRST experience the attendee will have, it sets the overall tone for the rest of event. Always keep in mind these items:

  • Hours of operation for the registration desk.
  • Location of event registration desk.
  • Signage for attendees so they can easily find registration and meeting rooms.
  • Event registration details.
  • Staffing needed to allow attendees a quick and satisfactory experience.

After thinking through the process, all registration materials should be organized and labeled. Based on the number of attendees, the planner should arrange for enough registration counters to accommodate a quick check-in process. A good rule of thumb is 250–300 attendees per counter at a maximum and one staff person per counter. If onsite registration is offered, it is necessary to have two people to staff that desk to collect payment, print a badge and handle other details.

Ideally, package in advance all materials in one packet so the staff can spend their time greeting the attendee and making them feel welcome instead of grabbing items to hand out. A single packet that includes their name badge, handouts or other materials can easily be pre-stuffed and labeled with attendee names. Larger items, such as a conference bag, should remain generic to allow for easy distribution. For example, metroConnections recently assisted a client with an event attended by approximately 1,500 people, and each of the attendees had a personalized agenda/schedule and each attendee received ribbons to display on their badge. To make the onsite check-in process fast and seamless, metroConnections pre-stuffed all personalized materials before the conference. This allowed the team to keep the onsite resources minimal by having only a single item to hand out when the attendees arrived.

The event registration counters should be clearly labeled with large headers or signs so your attendees know which counter to approach. No attendee wants to wait in line only to be told they’re in the wrong location. Headers above the counters are ideal for larger groups; easel signs or other signage work for smaller venues/groups.

Common Trouble Areas

Despite the best laid plans, there are several common areas that are often overlooked during the planning phase.

  • Identify an emergency contact for attendees. Although you hope to never use the information, it’s important to have it should the need arise.
  • Request dietary restrictions, ADA or other special needs. It is important to identify food allergies or specific needs. However, many planners have learned that an open text box on the registration form isn’t wise as some attendees will use it as a chance to pick their menu. Opt instead to limit the requests to preferences you can actually accommodate such as vegetarian, vegan, kosher, halal, allergies etc. It makes it clear to the attendee that you are concerned about dietary restrictions, but cannot provide a personalized meal for every conference attendee. ADA needs are equally important to identify and accommodate.
  • What is included. Items that are not clear during registration (i.e., do attendees pay their own hotel fees, are meals included, etc.) can be frustrating for attendees. The more detail you can provide attendees within the registration, confirmation and event website, the more content those attendees will be.
  • Outline registration separation. Should employees and attendees register in a separate manner? By separating registration counters by attendee type, you are able to keep the process moving. (Employee Registration, Sponsor/Partner Registration, or Attendee Registration).  Each of the attendee types usually receives varying registration materials, and they have their own set of needs and questions.
  • Asking too much. While not asking enough questions can be problematic, asking too many questions can result in the registrant failing to complete the registration, and/or annoying them with a lengthy process. A planner should only ask for information that will be used and is applicable.
  • Providing directional assistance. Avoid at all costs attendees walking through the venue confused and frustrated when they cannot find a room. Arranging for staff floating around the venue to assist attendees creates a warm and helpful experience. If you have a large group movement to buses for an offsite event, you should stage multiple staff along the pathway to keep attendees moving in the right direction.

Planning for Success

Since budgets are tight, staffing and travel costs seem like an easy area to cut in order to save money. However, if the attendee experience is compromised, is it worth the savings? One of the best ways to ensure success is to work with an expert who can help you through the online registration setup process, which may include sample forms and a suggested list of fields based on the event/meeting. This is where best practices and experience count. For example, incentive trips require a very different set of data from attendees than a user conference or national sales meeting.

Finally, be sure to look at your event from your attendees’ viewpoint when planning the registration process, the event website and other conference/meeting communications. Walk in the attendee’s shoes to determine that you have clearly outlined the details and information. This final step in the process will go a long way in ensuring a great attendee registration and set the stage for a memorable event experience. C&IT

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