How To Increase Seminar/Conference
Registrations With Irresistible Offers
By, Ralph Elliott, Ph.D.
When planning a program, most seminar/conference providers conduct extensive needs
analysis to determine content, presentation dates, and location. Providers also research
competitors and complete financial scenarios to determine the registration fee. While doing
the needs analysis and financial planning, providers develop data bases and promotional
literature to sell the course.
Having thoroughly planned their marketing mix, seminar/conference providers begin their
sales campaigns, expecting high enrollments and a lucrative return on the venture.
Unfortunately, these quot;best laid plansquot; often go awry because the provider has not made the
seminar/conference offer irresistible.
Ralph Elliott, world-
By combining an irresistible offer with a well-planned seminar/conference marketing plan, a
and creator of the provider can increase registrations. What are some of the characteristics providers should
“Effective include in an irresistible offer?
Marketing” Provide Registration and Payment Options - First, the seminar/conference provider should
workshop. give the prospective attendee both registration and payment options. A provider can give
registration options by permitting prospective attendees to register by toll-free phone, by Fax,
or by mail. Other response options include voice mail and email. Payment options should
include (a) enclose check with registration form, (b) VISA, MasterCard and American
Express payment choices, (c) bill me, (d) letter of intent/purchase order enclosed, or (e) pay at
Continue To Sell After the Sale - Second, providers should spell out on promotional
literature what registrants will receive after enrolling in a particular seminar/conference. For
example, providers should state registrants will receive a confirmation letter. Providers should
quot;continue selling after the salequot; by noting in promotional literature that immediately after
registering, a prospective attendee will receive a questionnaire to supply questions to the
Providers might consider mailing registrants (a) copies of recent articles by the speaker(s), (b)
a list of registrants by name/organizational affiliation, (c) detailed information on seminar
starting and stopping times, breaks, and social functions, (d) alternative transportation
choices, along with corresponding costs and (e) a reminder notice about one week ahead of
the seminar/conference start date. By continuing to sell after the sale has been made, a
provider reduces the likelihood that quot;buyer's regretquot; will cause the registrant to cancel or to
become a no-show.
Have An Irresistible Cancellation Policy - Third, a seminar/conference provider should
have an irresistible cancellation policy. Instead of being friendly, some providers charge $100
to registrants who change plans and cannot attend.
In other cases, providers impound a registrant's total registration fee if he/she cancels within
five days of the program. Other providers state registrants are liable for the registration fee if
they fail to cancel and have not paid.
Oftentimes, these same providers note in their promotional brochure they reserve the right to
cancel the seminar/conference and they are liable for refunding only the registration fee.
Registrants who have purchased non-refundable airline tickets to attend the
seminar/conference absorb the cost when the provider cancels the course.
What are some ways to turn the cancellation policy into an irresistible offer? One choice is to
drop all cancellation penalties and restrictions. Providers of high-price/high-profit-per-
participant seminar/conferences should consider taking this course of action.
In fact, providers should capitalize on a quot;no riskquot; cancellation policy, encouraging unsure
registrants to register simply because there are no cancellation penalties. Once a prospect has
registered, a provider can begin the quot;selling after salequot; campaign mentioned above to convert
the tentative registrant to a firm sale.
Providers with low-price seminar/conferences with small profit margins per attendee should
impose cancellation charges no greater than the actual transactions cost of handling a change.
Ideally, a provider should convince the canceling registrant to leave the monies with the
provider in a quot;hold on accountquot; file for future use on other upcoming meetings. If the
canceling attendee agrees to the transfer, no cancellation charge should be imposed. Of
course, in all cases, participants should have the option of having a substitute attend a meeting
in his/her place.
How about liability statements? Providers should consider dropping quot;limited liabilityquot;
statements from seminar/conference promotional literature. By using such statements, a
provider may give a prospective registrant the impression the provider often cancels
seminars/conferences. Otherwise, why would the statement be included in the offer? By
planting a seed of doubt in the prospect's mind, a provider creates uncertainty about whether a
seminar/conference will quot;make.quot;
One result of the uncertainty is prospective attendees will postpone their decision to register
until it's certain the seminar/conference will make it. As prospective attendees collectively
wait, the seminar/conference provider may lack enough enrollments at the go/no-go date and
have to cancel the course.
Of course, a provider would like to market only programs that have a high likelihood of
making it. In instances where enrollment is only a little lower than expected, a provider
should go ahead with the meeting to avoid a quot;cancellation reputation.quot; If the provider must
cancel because to hold the session with such a small audience would be embarrassing and/or
the incremental costs of presenting a course exceed the actual or anticipated revenue, the
provider should stand prepared to reimburse attendees who have purchased non-refundable
airline tickets plus take what other steps are necessary to maintain good customer relations.
The seminar attendee should not bear a cost as a result of the provider's decision to cancel a
Give A Money-Back Guarantee - Fourth, providers should use money-back guarantees to
create an irresistible offer. With a money-back guarantee, a provider offers to refund the
registration fee if an attendee is dissatisfied for any reason with the program.
By including a money-back guarantee in the offer, a provider builds credibility with the
prospective attendee. Knowing the provider will give a refund helps convince the attendee a
quality program is being offered.
A provider can structure a money-back guarantee in several ways. In some cases, providers
guarantee participant satisfaction by the mid-morning break on the first day. In other
instances, providers offer participants a lifetime money-back guarantee. Most providers offer
a refund at the conclusion of the program.
One of my clients offers a quot;double-your-money-backquot; guarantee. In this case, the provider
offers to pay the prospective attendee twice the registration fee if he/she doesn't receive the
benefits promised in the promotional brochure.
A provider should carefully choose the wording in the money-back guarantee statement. The
provider's wording should presume the attendee will be satisfied with the seminar/conference.
Otherwise, a provider may unintentionally plant seeds of doubt in the mind of the participant.
After the positive reassurance, a provider should give the refund policy.
Use Pricing Discounts - Fifth, a provider can use pricing discounts to create an irresistible
offer. By offering a price discount, a seminar/conference provider gives a prospective
attendee an opportunity to save on the registration fee. Pricing discounts are typically based
upon timing, volume, and/or type of organization.
In the case of timing, providers offer a discount to prospective registrants who enroll before
an established deadline. The reduced price is sometimes called quot;an early-bird registration
fee.quot; Providers who present annual conferences often use early-bird registration fees to
encourage prospective participants to take immediate registration action.
Participants who prefer to register just prior to a meeting may feel the provider's timing
discount is a penalty. These registrants may feel the provider is taxing their decision-making
style. As a result, they may call the provider after the price reduction deadline, ask for the
discount, and threaten not to attend if they do not receive the discount.
A provider's early-bird discount also has implications for marketing lead time. Once a
provider establishes a pricing discount deadline, he/she should make sure prospective
attendees receive promotional invitations well in advance of the deadline.
In many cases, original recipients pass promotional invitations along to colleagues/friends. If
the provider does not use an adequate lead time, some prospective attendees will receive an
invitation after the pricing deadline has expired. These recipients will be upset to learn they
do not qualify for the reduced price. They will not perceive the provider's offer as being
irresistible, but instead resistible.
Because a provider may lose registrations with a price discount based upon timing, some may
want to offer a price discount based upon volume or type of organization.
With a volume discount, a provider typically offers a reduced registration fee to additional
individuals from the same organization who is registering for a given program. Typically, the
second or third participant pays ten to fifteen percent less than the first registrant. In some
instances, providers charge the full price for the first three registrants, and then the fourth
registrant is free.
When offering volume discounts, most providers require all registrants from a particular
organization enroll at the same time for the same course to qualify for the discount. Requiring
all to register at the same time simplifies bookkeeping. Volume discounts based upon group
registrations are sometimes called quot;teamquot; discounts.
When giving a volume/team discount, providers should note in their promotional literature
team attendance is encouraged. A special section in the promotional brochure should discuss
the merits of team attendance and encourage multiple registrations from an organization.
At the same time, a provider should design the registration form so multiple attendees from
the same organization can easily reserve space at the seminar/conference. In other words, the
price discount, the team attendance statement, and the registration form should all
complement one another.
To create an irresistible offer, providers may want to give price discounts across multiple
sessions of a seminar. For example, a provider may present four sessions of a seminar at
different locations and dates. Price discounts could then be given to organizations that send
attendees to several sessions. In this case, the provider gives a quot;packagequot; discount.
Some providers give price discounts based upon type of organization. For example, for-profit
providers often let participants from non-profit organizations attend at a reduced price.
When offering a lower price to participants from certain kinds of organizations, a provider
must make sure participants who pay the full price will not object. A provider does not want
his/her full-paying customers to feel cheated because some participants are attending at a
reduced price. A provider might call these discounts quot;tuition scholarships.quot; By calling the
price discount a scholarship in the promotional literature, a provider can reduce the
registration fee for participants from selected market segments without alienating participants
who are paying the full price.
A provider may want to offer a reduced price to association members. Perhaps, a provider has
an association as a co-sponsor. All participants who are members of the association receive a
Or, association providers may give a price discount to their members. In other words, a non-
member pays more than a member. Sometimes the quot;spreadquot; between member-non-member
fees is almost equal to the cost of membership. By illustrating the benefits of membership, an
association provider encourages non-members to become members.
A provider may want to offer quot;menuquot; pricing to create an irresistible offer. With menu
pricing, a provider gives prospective participants numerous purchase options.
During an annual conference, a provider may have concurrent sessions, numerous social
functions, seminars within the conference, spouses' tours, and field trips. With menu pricing,
the provider lets the prospective attendee select and pay for the areas of interest.
In other words, each event is priced separately. So the provider lets the prospective attendee
choose a selection of activities that best fits his/her needs. At the same time, most providers
offer a quot;packagequot; price to participants who buy all of the scheduled activities.
Spell Out Enrollment Limits - Sixth, a provider should make judicious use of a quot;limited
enrollmentquot; statement. Often promotional literature states quot;enrollment is limited so register
now.quot; Providers use the statement as a technique to encourage prospective attendees to take
immediate registration action.
Unfortunately, providers mislead prospective attendees if enrollment is not truly limited.
Prospective attendees may infer from the limited enrollment statement that class size will be
small -typically in the twenty to thirty attendee range. When the attendee arrives at the
program and finds a relatively large class (perhaps over 100 participants), he/she may feel
A provider can use a limited enrollment statement several ways. First, the provider can list in
the promotional literature the limited enrollment number. For example, a provider might say
enrollment is limited to thirty attendees. By spelling out the actual enrollment number, a
provider adds credibility to his/her limited enrollment statement. By putting a cap on
enrollment, a provider clearly demonstrates the seminar/conference is exclusive and only a
select few will attend.
A provider should use a limited enrollment number that is credible. If a provider says
enrollment is limited to 150 attendees, he/she may lose the credibility established by the
exclusivity of limited enrollment. In other words, a provider needs to have congruence
between the limited enrollment statement and the number of participants allowed in the
Sometimes, a prospective attendee will purchase a non-refundable airline ticket prior to
registering in a limited enrollment program. Later, the individual attempts to register and is
told the class is full. The prospective attendee pleas to be admitted to the course. When
refused admission because the class is full, the prospective attendee becomes very upset. To
head off this problem, a provider should state in the promotional literature prospective
attendees should register before purchasing non-refundable tickets.
A provider limiting enrollment should exercise care in quot;overbooking.quot; If enrollment is
allowed to exceed the specified number and if all registrants show up for the course, a
provider may be accused of misleading participants in his/her program offer.
Before overbooking, a provider should analyze past cancellation/no-show percentages. From
this research, a provider can estimate the number of cancellations/no-shows for an upcoming
Alternatively, a provider may want to establish a waiting list. Participants who call after a
course is full would be put on the waiting list. As soon as a cancellation is received, a
provider would register the first person on the waiting list. With this approach, the provider
eliminates the risk of having more participants at the course than specified in the limited
While maintaining a waiting list, a provider may want to call all currently enrolled registrants
to confirm the registrants are planning to attend the seminar/conference. By reconfirming the
participants, a provider can identify potential cancellations/no-shows and go ahead and
register individuals on the waiting list.
Sometimes, a provider may not have a large enough staff to call all enrolled participants. In
this case, the provider may want to only call the participants who have not paid. Usually,
unpaid participants are more likely to be cancellations/no-shows.
Humanize the Registration Process - Seventh, a seminar/conference provider should create
an irresistible offer by humanizing the registration process. By humanizing the process, a
provider makes the potential registrant feel comfortable with the entire registration process.
What are some ways to humanize the registration process?
In some cases, anxiety arises because a prospective attendee may feel the provider's
organization is an impersonal entity. This is especially true if the seminar/conference provider
is a large organization. The provider can help to reduce this anxiety by listing a staff
member's name for the prospective attendee to call to register.
By listing a name with the registration number, a provider convinces the prospective attendee
that he/she will receive personalized attention. A provider reassures a prospective attendee
individual attention is being given to registrations.
In some instances, providers may list a fictitious name along with the registration phone
number. This is often the case where providers have a large volume of incoming registrations.
When a prospective attendee asks for the fictitious name, a provider's registrars know the
caller is a registrant. The registrars may tell the caller the person listed with the registration
phone number is away from his/her desk but he/she will be happy to handle the registration.
Listing a contact person's name is another way a provider can humanize the registration
process. Oftentimes, a potential attendee has questions about the seminar/conference content
the registrars can't answer.
Rather than have a registrar relay an inquiry, a provider might consider listing the name and
phone number of an appropriate contact person for each seminar/conference. In the
promotional literature, the provider should recommend prospective attendees call the registrar
to register or call the contact person for more information on the seminar/conference.
In some cases, a provider may not have a contact person available to list on the promotional
literature. If so, the provider should ask the registrars to keep a record of the most commonly
asked questions. Answers to the commonly asked questions should be developed by the
seminar/conference director or a speaker and given to the registrars. Armed with answers,
registrars can effectively handle questions and convert inquiries into registrations.
A Final Thought - As a rule, a provider will find an irresistible offer will produce more
registrations than an unfriendly offer. Registrations at seminars/conferences will be higher,
attendance will increase, and the bottom line will improve.
In some instances, a provider may feel a less friendly or harder offer will give the best return.
These providers may feel a hard offer gives their seminar/conference credibility. For example,
a provider may feel a tough cancellation policy ensures only highly committed prospects will