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Beyond the RSVP

How to make the most of online registration systems

By Angela Kryhul

The event registration process today is light years from the old days of hand-written forms and phone calls. And while the most basic software will help streamline the attendee registration and payment process, online registration systems are capable of so much more.

Know what you need
It’s important to discuss the technology during the very first planning session, says Erdem Önder, account executive with Richmond Hill, Ont.-based Principle, which offers the GuestDrive event management platform. “Planners who address registration and event technology later in the cycle risk missing opportunities to improve workflow and the other benefits they’re actually paying for [when they purchase] an event technology platform.”

Start by making a checklist of all the features you need and rank them as either “must have” or “nice to have,” suggests Jim Romanik, president of Vancouver-based ePly Online Event Registration. “List any special require-ments that are unique to your event and that might be difficult for an off- the-shelf system to handle.”

That list might include a registration form that can accommodate the event branding and sponsor logos. Also think about challenges you’ve faced in the past, aspects of your event that could be automated, and situations where you’re currently manipulating information manually. Research events that are similar to your own, and investigate the registration systems your colleagues are using.

For Lisa Lipowski, CMP, owner of Curly Dog Communications in Abercorn, Que., it’s important that an online system be available in both English and French, with the ability to pull reports in either language.

Reap all the benefits
Online registration systems are actually a gateway to demonstrating an event’s ROI, says Önder. For example, a live polling plug-in that attendees log into during a workshop can gauge engagement and comprehension and provide an opportunity to offer follow-up training.

“There are two big questions planners should ask: How can the [registrant] information be used to make our lives easier as planners, and how can I use this information to concretely demonstrate the ROI of this event to sponsors and clients?” adds Önder.

For Lipowski, one of the keys is having an open line of communication with the vendor and knowing that the support is there. “No matter whether you’re a seasoned veteran of registration or you’re stepping into a new environment, there’s always going to be a learning curve.”

Value versus Price
Online registration systems run the gamut from free to tens of thousands of dollars. Before you choose a system based solely on price, here are some tips on determining value:

• Pick the system that will work for you in the long term, and that will cut down on wasted time, frustration, lost registrations, etc.

• Understand exactly what you’re paying for, and whether fees are negotiable. Are you paying a flat rate, or a per-registration fee? Does the registration system vendor take a percentage of credit card fees? Is training provided and is support available during the registration process and during the event?

• Choose a system that is secure, up to date, and works with the latest browsers and devices.

• Don’t be afraid to ask for a free trial so that you can test a system (at a board meeting or workshop), before purchasing it for a larger event.

Data Gathering: How much is too much?
It’s best to keep registration forms simple, and only ask for the information you really need for your event, advises Jim Romanik, president of ePly Online Event Registration. It’s a good idea to give registrants the ability to opt out of extra questions since some registrants will put up with only so much before abandoning the form.

Always use a secure form and ensure that your event and registration data is being stored on a secure server, advises Principle account execu­tive Erdem Önder. Ask your vendor where, physi­cally in the world, the data-hosting servers are located, and ask for the name of any third-party web service provider. “Once you outsource from your jurisdiction, you lose a bit of control over that data,” he says.

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