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Streamlining Registration

For meeting planners, event registration doesn’t seem to be as challenging as, say, wrangling audiovisual. But just because something isn’t a struggle doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. Finding ways to streamline registration makes the planner’s job easier and makes the attendee experience breezier.

The vast majority of event registration is done online these days, though there are still organizations that offer paper registration and accept paper payment. For the most part, though,  online registration is like online shopping: Everyone does it. 

From building the registration form to executing on-site check-in, there are many ways to make registration more efficient and enjoyable.

Tap That Tech

Planners should invest in some kind of registration software, said Abby Gasch, senior meetings and events operations coordinator for Land O’Lakes, who builds registration sites, oversees e-mail communications and runs registration desks for company events.

The team at Land O’Lakes uses Cvent and GTR, but it doesn’t have to be a fancy, pricey program. Programs like Microsoft Forms and Qualtrics let you build easy, fillable forms, Gasch said, and planners can even use SurveyMonkey for registration, said Cori Dossett, president of Conferences Designed. 

However, having a platform makes it easier to integrate multiple aspects of the event. Land O’Lakes uses GTR to create event websites that incorporate everything from registration to livestreaming.

Vinnu Deshetty takes it a step further. She encourages organizations to invest in integrating their customer relationship management (CRM) software or association management system (AMS) with their registration platform.

Deshetty is general manager for EVA, a virtual conference, trade show and registration platform. EVA recommends using its virtual event platform for in-person meetings. That way, if planners have to pivot to virtual or add a hybrid component, everything is seamless.

Deshetty often encounters organizations that choose not to integrate their AMS or CRM with their registration, so they end up doing tedious, time-consuming manual checks of what data has changed between the two platforms. Integrating a membership system with registration saves time, saves money and basically allows attendees to update the organization’s CRM as they register. 

EVA will also soon roll out artificial-intelligence-powered features that take registration data even further: using attendee demographics and attendance history to provide personalized recommendations about which future events would best serve their needs and fit their interests.

Think Like an Attendee 

When designing your registration portal, it’s about finding the right balance: Make sure you get everything you need, but also get rid of anything you don’t.

Take time to build a form that contains all the information you need from the start, Deshetty said. If you have to add a field midway through registration, half the attendees who already submitted their information will have blank fields, “which is a big headache,” she said. “So really taking the time to figure out if you have everything you need, but also think about whether you actually need all the information you’re asking for.” 

Don’t hesitate to include questions about information you need, from photo waivers to vaccination status, but make the form as short, simple and concise as possible, use clear language and have a “very clear” cancellation policy, Dossett said.

If there’s any doubt about whether to include a question, it’s better to ask it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Dossett once had a client who was thinking about providing T-shirts but didn’t want to ask about shirt sizes at registration. When the client later decided to give out shirts, “we had to go back to every single person,” she said.

Planners should also look at the site from the attendee perspective. Gasch recommends asking other team members to peruse the registration site for anything an attendee would call out, from unclear language to misspelled words.

Also keep in mind that attendees aren’t likely to read huge paragraphs of information. Instead, use several simple, short bullet points “because they’ll read that,” Dossett said. Gasch suggests using links to simplify the site, such as linking to a full agenda or to rules and regulations. She also builds a simple “agenda at a glance” timeline and always includes an FAQ link.

Improving the registration process also means testing your online registration, not as a planner but as an attendee.

“You have to try to break the site, in a sense,” Gasch said. “We get so fixated on the site — does it look good, sound good. But at the end of the day, does it work well?”

Pay Up

For payment, every registration portal is different. Some offer their own payment processing system, and some allow you to integrate PayPal, Stripe and other payment services. No matter what they use, planners need to understand how their payment processing works and should help educate attendees on the process, Deshetty said. Where does the payment end up? How does it appear on attendees’ financial statements? What does confirmation look like? What happens if you need to issue a refund? “It’s important to know those things when you’re talking about people’s money,” she said.

Cvent provides “On Arrival” kits, a mobile-app-specific process that allows attendees to pay on-site. Attendees use an iPad to check in and then, if they didn’t pay in advance, swipe their card on the connected Square. It eliminates having to handle cash or checks on-site and allows staff to pull reports afterward.

“So, whether we pay online or in person, it has become a saving grace,” Gasch said.

On-Site Efficiency 

The pandemic has forever changed on-site registration, and contactless check-in and social distancing have created opportunities to make it even more efficient.

“Self-check-in is so easy,” Dossett said. “I’m a big fan of it.” She prefers stand-alone check-in kiosks that allow attendees to print their own badges and can be set up to allow for ample space and smooth traffic flow. Plus, using a program where people print their own badges allows the planner real-time access to see who has checked in.

Thinking about physical layout is important to avoid traffic jams, especially now with social distancing protocols. Dossett was recently at a meeting where they touted their touchless check-in, but then had six badge printers on a 12-foot table, so people were standing shoulder to shoulder.

You also want to minimize lines as much as possible. If it’s necessary for people to physically check in or pick up materials, try to staff appropriately and spread people out to make lines move quickly.

Make sure the persons running the registration desk have everything they need, like an attendee list sorted by last name, adequate instructions to hook up badge printers, familiarity with the software — “and, most importantly, who to go to if they have a problem,” Dossett said.

Deshetty has also seen people ship out badges and materials ahead of the event, which can be expensive but minimizes the hassle of on-site check-in and provides an opportunity for a sponsorship asset, like a gift or branded packaging.