Meeting Event Registration Guide

Event registration just HAS to be done right – accurately, efficiently, and user-friendly.

Registration is often the first point of contact, and it creates a first impression of what can be expected during your meeting or event – good or bad! It can cost your organization in lost revenue if prospective attendees get frustrated when trying to register and decide not to bother, and it can affect the overall perception of value that attendees take away from the program if they do persevere and attend. These considerations make registration one of the most important components of the entire event, and it applies to all stages of the registration process from initial inquiries through advance registration, changes or cancellations, payment, confirmations, and even walk-in registrations on-site.

So let’s review how to go about making registration a really great experience for everyone, including your staff and volunteers.

Your Registration Team

Smile being heard over the telephone. So important.

The key element for providing a welcoming and helpful tone for a successful registration experience will be well trained, cheerful and guest-oriented staff members whose Smiles can be heard over the telephone and readily seen when they are working on-site. Registration is a form of customer service and everyone who registers must be treated as a customer or guest.

That said, there is no substitute for a competent and well-informed registration staff. A working knowledge of computers, database, and registration software will be required for anyone handling advance registration, but it will not necessarily be required of everyone who works registration on-site. Anyone responding to questions about the event should be well versed in the options available and the cost.

Questions beyond the basics about the program should be transferred to a contact more knowledgeable about the details such as topics, speakers, entertainment, etc.

Technology

Advance registration for a meeting or event usually requires no face-to-face contact at all. Web-based or computer software can generate marketing announcements, email invitations, registration services, payment functions, confirmations, reminders and even follow-up thank you notes after the event. This type of registration is almost always used for virtual meetings and can be relatively simple, but registration for face-to-face meetings or events may be more complex depending on the variables that are offered for attendees to choose from, particularly if housing options are included.

Web-based programs require no software downloads and are accessible from any computer at any time for anyone that has been given the code. Examples of information typically required from attendees registering for an event is available in the form provided by the link below.

Security and privacy

Database security and attendee privacy must be a top priority. Control and backup measures in case a system failure occurs should be thoroughly researched and in place before finalizing registration procedures. Attendees will need assurance that their information cannot be accessed or misused by unauthorized parties. A link to your privacy policy should be included in your online registration forms and the URL printed on all paper registration materials that are to be faxed or mailed.

Cost of online registration services

Not all online registration services are expensive, nor do all require signing up for an annual or monthly fee. Some will charge per registration transaction and may or may not require a minimum number of registrations per year. Others can be set up to sell tickets for admission. Integrated systems that include a full database function are pricier, but still a great value. Some charge a base set-up and implementation fee plus a monthly fee for each person authorized to access the system, and others will charge based on the number of events and transactions per year.

Staff training will be required, but once that is accomplished the reduced staff hours needed to handle registrations will not only save time but also money and frustration and may be the most cost-effective in the long run.

Registration Guidelines for Meetings and Events

Your goal in planning and setting up registration procedures for an upcoming meeting or event is to have happy people standing before you at the registration table once you are on-site and keeping them that way with a smooth, trouble-free check-in process.  It takes thoughtful, friendly and competent people working on your team with you, and backup procedures ready to overcome any unhappy surprises you might encounter when you are on-site.
Let’s walk through the meeting or event registration process and discuss your options.
If your group is very small, many of the items discussed here will not apply since it will be simple for you to take registration requests yourself and insert them into an Excel workbook with different tabs for the various functions and responsibilities.  Payments can be handled easily by accepting emailed or faxed credit card info or by requesting that payments be made by check via regular mail.  But if your meeting or event is complex or if your group is large, these suggested guidelines will help you think through registration procedures to come up with the arrangement that will work best for you.

Handling Meeting and Event Registration Payments

Integrated registration systems

 Your organization must have a website and a merchant bank account and a website if you are to handle credit card transactions with automatic confirmation and deposit at the time of registration.  The website does not have to be sophisticated.  It can be a one-page announcement with standard details about your event and can be very simple to create.
There are numerous software or web-based registration systems available that can integrate information from your database to handle the entire registration process from start to finish including payments and confirmations.  Others can be used to handle a portion of the process without being integrated to your database.  More on this in the Event Registration Overview.

Third party credit card processing

If you do not have a registration system that automatically processes credit card payments and you do not have a merchant account enabling you to process credit card payments internally, a PayPal account may be a good option for you.  PayPal can process most types of credit cards and route payments directly to your bank account for a fee.  It is easy to integrate their “Website Payments Standard” by copying a basic HTML code and pasting it into your website for access by link to your registration information.   If you want to customize beyond “basic,” it is not so easy. And remember, PayPal does not process every type of credit card so that could be problematic for some of your prospective attendees.  

Processing payments directly

If you prefer to accept payments directly by check, cash or credit card information provided to you by fax or email (credit card information by telephone is NOT recommended), credit card processing will have to be handled at your office and/or the on-site registration desk by using a credit card authorization terminal.  Deposits of checks and cash will have to be hand-carried to your bank.
To obtain a credit card authorization terminal, you will again have to establish a merchant bank account.  An effective check-and-balance system must be in place, so don’t leave cash and deposit handling to amateurs.  It is a tremendous responsibility when you are handling it from your office, and the responsibility doubles when you accept payments on-site where things will be hectic.

Cash handling on-site

If your group is large and a considerable amount of money is to be handled on-site, it is a good idea to coordinate arrangements with the on-site financial manager to secure your cash, checks and credit card receipts in a lock box throughout the course of each day, or contract with an outside security vendor to pick up and transport funds as directed.   This must be carefully thought through, and arrangements made well in advance!

Registration Checklist

A checklist and timeline go hand-in-hand with meeting and event planning.  When you do a thorough job of creating the checklist first, you can then use it to create the timeline.  These two documents will do everything to keep you on track and on time if you refer to them regularly and faithfully.  Update them as you go along, and their “shelf life” will be endless as they will be the first documents you pull when you begin planning the next event.  Timesavers and lifesavers, BOTH.

The Registration Checklist should include a section dedicated to the supplies that need to be ordered in advance before registration opens plus those to pack to go on-site for registration set-up.  Thorough backup procedures should also be listed, such as the printed lists to take with you and flashlights if you have a power or failure, equipment malfunction, depleted batteries, etc.  Ever forgotten your power cord?  Not good.  Details!  You can’t remember them all if you don’t document them … and once on-site it is usually too late to recover from oversights.