The solutions that enable the delivery of conferences, seminars exhibitions and meetings, are as varied as the events themselves. And, as technology moves up through gears we never thought it had, the pace of change and range of new options, apps and systems is growing exponentially.
Registration used to be a very specific part of the delivery chain, but now the power of digital has blurred formerly clear definitions and the supplier of registration software is expected to – and indeed can – do so much more.
Some organisers favour an outsourced approach; requiring registration solutions providers to offer both online and offline registration, together with project management and telephony capabilities, as part of a package of high level delegate care.
Others prefer an insourced solution and, using SaaS (software as a service) solutions to take control of the process, end to end.
In most cases, organisers usually at least require from their registration systems payment processing capabilities and the ability to produce a badge, either in advance or on arrival.
Many also expect their registration process to include the ability to set capacities to ensure theatres can accommodate demand, to offer early-bird and other discounts, and to create personalised itineries for delegates to help them maximise time at an event.
And, increasingly, organisers are keen to bundle the initial registration system with the offer of networking tools to stimulate and monitor engagement and prove participant ROI. The apps market is rapidly moving in to fill this demand.
The delegate experience is, thus, often delivered by an amalgam of solutions.
“It is imperative that the selected platforms are open and can be integrated easily (APIs – application program interface – are the popular mechanism) to ensure data flows to enhance and automate,” says commercial director of N200 (part of the globalevents contractor GES) David Cunningham, who believes organisers generally take great care when planning their delegate journey.
“At N200, our focus is the provision of SaaS solutions but, that said, a key point of difference is our ability to provide service too, particularly in the initial phase as clients are learning how best to use our software.”
Cunningham is an advocate of the joined up approach and explains that although most SaaS providers have no on-site capability his company offers end-to-end capabilities and solutions used across 40 countries.
The figures would seem to bear out his strategy, with N200 processing 4m registrations and supplying technology that deals with 2.5m delegates and visitors a year.
The N200 software, Cunningham adds, can offer multilingual options and, via recommended PSPs, process payment in most currencies.
Other advantages of such systems is that organisers can set their own delegate rates, capture the money via their own merchant account and receive delegate funds direct into their bank account.
Cunningham urges organisers to beware, however, that the SaaS provider may levy ‘per ticket’ charges and hold delegate funds until post-event as standard.
The power of data
Another area proving ever more critical to organisers as they seek to enhance their value proposition is data, and the intelligence it derives. If that is important, organisers should look for registration products that allow for data mining, campaign efficacy and ROI measurement through ‘intelligence dashboards’.
Consider the cost
Eventbrite is another global company with major experience in building technology to facilitate meetings. The company’s head of marketing for the UK & Ireland, Marino Fresch (pictured), says: “When choosing a conference registration system, you need to consider cost as well as functionality”.
Eventbrite offers a free basic registration service for free events, only charging a fee when organisers charge for tickets.
Fresch says that because free events tend to have a 50 per cent dropout rate, charging even a small fee could actually increase attendance for organisers on the day.
Having the technology and using it to best effect are two different things. “Making sure the ticketing site is mobile optimised to maximise ticket sales as well as customising the page to match your brand, are points organisers should consider because they can really help to boost conversion,” Fresch adds.
Although Eventbrite focuses on delivering its own registration and ticketing tools, Fresch and his team are well aware that there are other tools that conference organisers need to make their event a success. “That’s why we have many third party integrations so that you can easily pull your data from Eventbrite to make use of other tools,” he says.
Some of the most popular integrations flagged by Fresch include Sli.do, Boomset and Guidebook. He says Sli.do worked well at events like Social Media Week London because it is an effective way of involving the audience in the discussion but does not interrupt the flow and gives the host control to focus on the most popular or more interesting topics.
Boomset, Fresch says, empowers the event planner to manage and sync multiple guestlists, coordinate the notification of guest arrivals, print on demand name tags, receive donations, follow up with attendees, connect with staff members using group messaging and more.
“Guidebook is a really simple way for conference organisers to set up an app for their event,” Fresch adds and believes it is vital that organisers use their connections and partnerships to spread the word and attract people to their event.
“That’s why having the right tools to support your marketing efforts and get back data is really crucial,” he says.
Eventbrite’s own systems allow organisers to set up tracking links for each sponsor, partner, speaker and exhibitor, so organisers can effectively see how much traffic they are driving to the event page and how many tickets are being sold, a great way of reviewing which partnerships and relationships are working.
With so many new players in the market, another piece of advice from Fresch for conference organisers is to make sure that their supplier has the right funding behind them and resources in place to be able to support them effectively.
“You need to know that you have a partner that can grow and evolve with your events so that managing a large onsale and maintaining site uptime is just normal service.”
Events team manager rewards and recognition, commercial distribution, at Nationwide, Karen Small is one organiser yet to feel the need for special registration tools for her delegates. “It’s all manual here, although with technology advances, it is something we are looking to learn more about and to investigate the value this brings on a case by case basis.”
Making the right choice isn’t easy and Small thinks the market is saturated “with different options available and providers very keen to make contact”.
She is no Luddite, however, and says technology is appealing but that knowing the benefits it can bring for the cost involved is an essential pre-requisite.
“The value and need for such a tool needs to be balanced with the cost,” she underlines.
Many venues are well placed to help their clients with choosing registration technology suppliers.
Warwick Conferences has even extended its own online delegate registration tool to its clients.
Delegates coming to Warwick can input detail such as where they will be travelling from and any dietary requirements, while the system incorporates an online payment system and offers a customised portal for individual events.
Rachael Bartlett, head of sales and marketing at Warwick Conferences, says: “The extension of this choice boosts our offering and serves to make the process easier for our clients, easing the burden for the event organisers and doing away with labour-intensive spreadsheets that require manual updating.”
This was first published in the February issue of CN. Any comments? Email Paul Colston