Online Registration - Best Practices Today and Tomorrow


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Presented at the SGMP National Education Conference, May 21, 2010 at the Hyatt Regency in Kansas City, MO.

Online registration is an essential tool for meeting planners in their drive to reduce costs and increase convenience for their attendees. This session will show how event registration has changed over the years, and will describe current and emerging best practices. You will discover the most cost-effective options to provide a Web presence for your events and how email can best be used in online communication with your meeting attendees. We will explain how to use current state-of-the-art tools to avoid drowning in data and how to create custom reports that can be delivered in common formats. You also will receive answers to such questions as,

• What special considerations do government events have for online registration?
• What are the security, privacy, and compliance issues behind online registration?
• How does an online registration system fit into social networks and my event community?

In addition, you will learn about the Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX) initiative sponsored by SGMP and other associations in the meetings and group travel industry. APEX is producing open standards for electronic data transfer of event RFPs, rooming lists, and event specification guides between meeting professionals and hotel suppliers.

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  • Here is today’s agenda:First we are going to take a short look back into the past to remind us what was considered “the cutting edge” over each of the past 3 decades, --- and we will use that history to guide us towards what we expect to see in the future.Next, we will review in detail some of the current best practices– Things you should have implemented in your organization already today… such as Software as a service, the ability to customize and personalize your websites and event registration forms, Payment Card Industry compliance --- security analysis and certification for your websites, and web accessibility compliance as defined by the American Disabilities Act.Then we are going to look at future best practices– things being done today by early adopters that haven’t yet spread widely through the industry – but we expect they soon will.
  • First of all, we go back 30 years and look at the standard in 1980 when phones, fax, and note cards were common tools for event registration. Attendees would receive flyers in the mail or pull inserts from a magazine and register for an event over the phone or mail --- or maybe fax for the most technically advanced. Planners would rely on note cards or index cards and manually compiled registration data, and then they had to mail out confirmation letters and paper reports to their suppliers. Paper checks and money orders were the norm for paying registration fees.
  • 10 years later, the advent of the PC, Windows-based software, and spreadsheets like Excel and Lotus 1-2-3 revolutionized the event industry. Toward the middle of the decade, e-mail became common enough to allow for instant communication between some attendees and planners. Suddenly, attendees could register via mail or email, planners could receive the information and enter the data into Windows-based software such as Certain’sEventsPro and Event Planner Plus products - or into an Excel spreadsheet where they could enter the data one time and then use that information many different ways to print reports, name badges, confirmation letters, and so on. Payment via credit card became more common, although planners had to run credit card numbers manually.
  • By the turn of the century, early adopters among event planners were using web-based registration. Companies such as Certain Software were the pioneers in this new medium, which allowed attendees to go online, visit the event website online – day or night and from anywhere in the world with Internet access -- and then they could enter their information via an online registration form. The planner received the information in real-time, without having to do manual data entry, and payments were often processed via credit card instantly. Now the event planner could focus on the event’s agenda and dealing with the logistics of the reports going out to suppliers and further communication with attendees.
  • In this decade, Web 2.0 has really started to take hold among the early adopters. This means that now attendees can communicate with each other, outside of the interaction between the attendee and the event planner.Things like virtual events, social networks, online forums and communities, and smartphones– we really expect these things to be the next generation of best practices for event planners. What you see in this slide is that today, attendees have a lot of interaction with each other --- before, during, and after the event. Websites and registration forms become the first step in the creation of an event community, which creates a place for attendees to meet and interact, virtually, outside of the physical event --- and indeed in some cases this virtual meeting may replace the physical event!
  • So now we are going to look at today’s best practices --things adopted around the year 2000, and now they have become standard.
  • I am going to go through these best practices with a series of “should have” statements, meaning that you should have at least considered these options for your organizations, and if you have not yet implemented them --- you should at least have a reason for not doing so. Not all of these “best practices” will apply to every event. So, first of all, your event management software should have a web interface. Outside of that basic requirement, there are different types of software, and different methods of deployment.- There are commercial off-the-shelf products. Software ready to be used as soon as purchased – getting the name from things in the old days like Excel and Word that used to actually be purchased off a store shelf.- Then, there is custom development, where software is created specifically for your organization.- And there are web based applications that you access through a web browser vs. windows-based applications which operate on PCs and servers and do not require an Internet connection.Regardless of what type of software you use, you have multiple deployment options. Software can either be hosted by a 3rd party company such as Certain Software through a SaaS or “Software as a Service” model or through a dedicated portal where the domain name, the look of the application, and so on is private-labeled for your organization, but the data itself is hosted by a 3rd party. The other option is to have in-house hosting, where the software is hosted behind your own firewall inside your organization. This is becoming less common among best practices in the events industry, however, some organizations still have requirements or internal policies to keep all data internally. Also, some very large events do not want to rely on Internet connections while on-site, and prefer the knowledge that they can simply take their windows application offline and take their server to the event site with them, and then be up and running again without having to rely on an Internet connection.Today, most new event software purchases are Web-based SaaS applications, or at least have some component of web-access and external hosting in the overall package.
  • If you are going to manage housing reservations than you should combine event registration and housing to prevent attrition in your room block. And this is whether your registration and housing are maintained in the same system such as that of Certain Software or two different systems. So shown here for example we have an event registration form inside Certain Software and a housing reservation form set up through the popular Pathkey group reservation system which many hotels offer. Even if you use 2 systems the process needs to be seamless and easy for attendees so they go directly from the event registration into the housing reservation and all their information is pre-populated and the process is as easy as possible. Otherwise the attendees might be tempted to link out to another travel site such as and search for the cheapest room and book outside of your room block leaving you to face possible attrition fees.
  • With travel information, our application allows you to collect travel requests and then fulfill those with either your own internal or third party travel agency. Or you can also collect actual travel reservation information at the same time as the event registration. Now this lets you collect trip level detail of your travel reservations and that can be useful for arrival/departure manifests and also for coordinating ground transportation. Our applications also allow you to integrate with the popular online travel booking tools and GDS (global distribution systems) such as Sabre, and the booking tools Resx, GetThere. And Cliqbooks by Concur.By integrating with those applications, you can pull the real time travel reservation information into the event registration application, regardless of where that travel reservation is made (if it’s made online, directly through the airline website, through a 3rd party agency over the phone, or if it’s made through your event registration process) Regardless of how this reservation is made, by integrating nightly or periodically with GDS, we can make sure that the actual travel reservation is stored along with the event registration details.
  • Table seating assignments are another logistical nightmare for meeting planners. You’ve probably had the experience before – you have so many people in the room and some people need special seating assignments, others must sit together, while other groups cannot be seated together. Then there’s a big column in the middle of your dining room where no one can sit without being blocked from the speaker. Our software helps you address all of these situations and more, so that you can quickly produce detailed seating charts and table tents for your guests.
  • Some events offer multi-day, multi-session formats with different tracks occurring simultaneously on different subjects. Our Session Management module allows event planners to set up a Paper submission portal for these events, where presenters can submit abstracts, reviewers and get assigned to look at these submissions and judge their qualifications for the event, and the host can choose speakers and assign their session time slot and location. This is all done online, so that the planner can track information coming in from the hundreds or thousands of presenters, reviewers, and host committee members --- without going insane.
  • After the event, you’ll want to post online surveys for your attendees, so they can rate your event and speakers and such. Certain allows you to collect separate surveys for sessions, exhibitors, hotels, and such - - and then compile and publish the results for your host and suppliers.
  • So that gives an overview of the current best practices for event planners. These were things that the early adopters started doing ten years ago, and they have become fairly prevalent so that a majority of professional event planners are using them now. You should at least consider each of those practices for your organization and decide if they don’t apply to you– otherwise try to adopt them.
  • Next we are going to look at some of the future best practices– Things that people are doing now that we expect will be the norm in the industry in another ten years. These fit generally under the term “Web 2.0” – which means that, as opposed to the first iteration of the web which was primarily interaction and one way communication between the event planner and attendee, web 2.0 creates a community where people can talk to each other outside of the event planner-- and so things such as forums and social networks, blogs, and so on allow the event planner to create a community, and then get out of the way so that community of individuals speak to each other on their own.
  • Use a social network to make introductions
  • Next, you can integrate event communities and social networks with your registration database. Here, we show an example of the MPI’s world education conference – This is an event community created by one of our partners, Pathable, where it has a brand that matches the look and feel of the event website but it brings all the information from Twitter and LinkedIn and other social networks into one place. You see here that your attendees can be listed with the info they provided during registration, also details that were pulled from their linked in profiles, and you can see tweets that are going through twitter that are related to this event, and you can see each individual’s agendas and schedules and try to make connections.Now all of this information is brought together in one place but notice that it builds upon the best practices of the last ten years– namely you still need to have a solid event website and a solid registration process in order to get people into your community.
  • Web 2.0 creates a new virtual meeting environment, but it also creates new set of issues that you have to address. Some web 2.0 systems you can control, such as your own blogs and your own online community. You can configure these so that you can review different posts and decide which content is going to be displayed. - First of all with your system you want to make sure that people opt in to public displays of information. Different people consider different levels of privacy appropriate. You want to make sure that if somebody’s name is going to be displayed on an attendee list that they are okay with that. Some people are okay with their name being displayed but not their photo or other information such as email and so on.- Also, if you are going to review a forum than you should only review the posts for compliance with legal terms and policies but not for opinion. You want to encourage open discussion but keep things professional.- By professional I mean that you want to make sure that the information posted is factual, not in violation of your policies, and that the friends and followers (the people who are trying to join the community) are appropriate to your audience.The second part of web 2.0 are the public systems – things that you cannot control. Now, you can’t control these networks, but you can at least follow what is going on. One nice service to do this Google Alerts, shown here, where you can ask Google to search for a specific term such as the name of your event or brand, and deliver information once a day or once a week to your email – with new search results that have appeared and match your terms. This way, you can be aware of what people are saying about your event, and if it is negative than you can respond and try to correct the situation. If any of the information is false then you should also reply to that, make a correction, and ask the author to do a retraction. Even though information can be published very quickly on the internet, there is some professionalism among authors in that mistakes will be corrected and posted so the information will not exist out there forever.
  • All of these future best practices are going to require communication channels between multiple systems. What I mean by that is that in the past, humans primarily interacted with their computers, and then on the other end, another human would interact with another computer to respond– for example in an email communication between two people.In the new web 2.0 world, there will be a lot of systems that communicate with each other and do things automatically without human involvement. Certain Software offers what are called “web services” through an application program interface, or API, and this allows our application to be extended to interact with other applications for such uses as single sign on, so that employees can log into an intranet and then click to an events portal, and then from there the system would know who they are, what information they have in the employee database, and it would be a seamless process from their perspective. You can also set up automated reports and the automatic data transfer between multiple systems.
  • So we have seen an overview of the last 30 years --- of how early adopters became best practices and how these practices have changed event registration. We looked at today’s best practices in detail, things that you should have in your organization now. And we looked at today’s early adopters – which gives us a hint at tomorrow’s best practices.If you have any questions please enter them into the chat window, and we will answer as many as we can. You can also contact me at
  • Online Registration - Best Practices Today and Tomorrow

    1. 1. Online Registration for Meetings: Best Practices Today and Tomorrow<br />Rick Borry<br />Chief Software Architect<br />Certain Software<br />
    2. 2. Outline<br />The “Cutting Edge”<br />Current Best Practices<br />Software as a Service (SaaS)<br />Customize and Personalize<br />Payment Card Industry (PCI)<br />ADA / Section 508<br />Future Best Practices<br />Web 2.0, Social Networking<br />
    3. 3. 1980: Phone, fax, note cards, checks<br />Mail<br />Phone<br />Fax<br />Data Entry<br />Attendees<br />Planner<br />Confirmation letters<br />Suppliers<br />Reports<br />
    4. 4. 1990: Windows, Spreadsheets<br />Mail<br />Phone<br />Fax<br />E-mail<br />Data Entry<br />Attendees<br />Planner<br />Confirmation letters<br />Suppliers<br />Reports<br />
    5. 5. 2000: Web-Based Registration<br />Web Sites<br />Planner<br />Reports<br />Attendees<br />Online Registration<br />Suppliers<br />E-mail<br />
    6. 6. 2010: Web 2.0(Virtual events, Social networks, Smart phones)<br />Web Sites<br />Planner<br />Reports<br />Attendees<br />Forms<br />Forums<br />Social networks<br />Suppliers<br />Blogs<br />
    7. 7. Outline and Objectives<br />The “Cutting Edge”<br />Current Best Practices<br />Software as a Service (SaaS)<br />Customize and Personalize<br />Payment Card Industry (PCI)<br />ADA / Section 508<br />Future Best Practices<br />Web 2.0<br />Social Networking<br />
    8. 8. Your event management software should have a Web interface<br />Software<br />COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf)<br />Custom Development<br />Web vs. Windows client-server<br />Deployment<br />Externally Hosted (ASP):<br />Multi-tenant SaaS<br />Dedicated Portal / Private Label<br />In-House Solutions:<br />Internally hosted behind your firewall<br />COTS or custom system<br />
    9. 9. <ul><li>Purchase new domains names, if available
    10. 10. Have IT set up sub-domains, e.g.,
    11. 11. Use URL-shortening service, e.g.</li></ul>Your event Web sites should have a readable Web address<br />
    12. 12. E-mail invitations should be straightforward and attractive<br />Customize:<br />Target the message to the audience<br />Respect “Opt-out”<br />Personalize:<br />Increase relevance<br />Appeal visually:<br />Use HTML<br />Minimalist design reduces distraction from message<br />
    13. 13. 2<br />3<br />1<br />1<br />2<br />3<br />Set up multiple tabs or pages<br />Present essential information to Attendees<br />Customize with hyperlinks and images<br />Every event should have a Web site with all information in one place<br />
    14. 14. You should be able to modify your event Web site without programming<br /><table width="100%“ cellspacing="0"><br /> <tr><br /> <td><br /> <imgsrc="/event/accounts/usmint20030620074751/bannerBottom2.jpg" alt=“Third Annual Certain Users Group" align="top" width="593" height="52"><br /> </td><br /> </tr><br /></table><br />
    15. 15. Federal laws and purchasing initiatives protect disabled and personal privacy<br />Section 508 / Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)<br />Mandate accessibility requirements for web sites<br />Web sites and forms must work with screen reader tools for visually impaired<br />Burden of proof is on contractors who provide services to Federal agencies<br />Validate compliance with WebXAct and other tools<br />State and Federal laws protect e-mail privacy<br />Don’t send messages to e-mail addresses who haven’t requested information<br />Always provide an “opt-out” option, unless attendance is mandatory<br />"Target Corp. agreed to modify its Web site and pay $6 million in damages to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by the National Federation of the Blind. The NFB will test the site's accessibility annually for three years."<br />
    16. 16. 2<br />3<br />1<br />1<br />2<br />3<br />Add your custom graphics and logo<br />Collect required or optional data<br />Customize questions and the event program<br />Online registration forms should be customized and personalized<br />
    17. 17. 2<br />3<br />1<br />1<br />2<br />3<br />Accept payment via check, credit card or invoice<br />Process payments online directly into your bank<br />Provide refunds for cancellations, overpayments<br />Online payment processing should be real-time and seamless<br />
    18. 18. Credit cards face many fraud issues, but also have standards for prevention<br /><ul><li>Payment Card Industry (PCI) Compliance – “Level 1”
    19. 19. Employee screening process
    20. 20. Request a report from an independent auditor
    21. 21. Data Encryption and Security
    22. 22. Transmit data securely via SSL (“https://”)
    23. 23. Encrypt credit card information on stored media
    24. 24. Mask credit card information online and in e-mail
    25. 25. Address Verification Service (AVS)
    26. 26. Zip Code and/or Street Address
    27. 27. 0.1% reduction can save thousands $$$
    28. 28. Card Security Code (CSC, CVV)
    29. 29. Number cannot be stored</li></ul>5426 9123 1826 4162<br />Mask<br />******4162<br />Encrypt<br />aC82Ij4Hn9sP012Hc4sxz9eqPf8<br />
    30. 30. Combine registration and housing to prevent attrition<br />Booking the event hotel should be the easy path<br />
    31. 31. Collect travel requests or reservation information with event registration<br />Travel requests<br />Trip-level reservation detail<br />Ground transportation<br />Arrival / Departure manifests<br />Integrate with GDS<br />Sabre, Resx, GetThere, Concur Cliqbooks<br />
    32. 32. Online and e-mail confirmations should be custom and personal<br />3<br />2<br />1<br />1<br />2<br />3<br />Create custom confirmation pages<br />Automatically generate confirmation emails<br />Provide custom links to inform attendees<br />
    33. 33. Allocate tables and seating assignments<br />Select from standard or custom room layouts<br />Print table tents and seating charts<br />
    34. 34. Session Management to organize speakers, reviewers, and time slots<br />Submit abstracts<br />Review papers online<br />Assign speakers and sessions<br />
    35. 35. Post-event surveys provide feedback<br />Separate surveys for sessions, events, exhibitors<br />
    36. 36. Outline and Objectives<br />The “Cutting Edge”<br />Current Best Practices<br />Software as a Service (SaaS)<br />Customize and Personalize<br />Payment Card Industry (PCI)<br />ADA / Section 508<br />Future Best Practices<br />Web 2.0<br />Social Networking<br />
    37. 37. Web 2.0 connects people, everywhere<br />Web Sites<br />Planner<br />Reports<br />Attendees<br />Forms<br />Forums<br />Social networks<br />Suppliers<br />Blogs<br />
    38. 38. Blogs connect an author to a wide audience<br />“Blog” is short for “Web Log”<br />Easily publish short articles of interest<br />Attendees subscribe to your articles<br />Allow comments for audience participation<br />Example:,<br />
    39. 39. Forums allow an audience to communicate<br />Moderator establishes topics of interest<br />Audience posts to these topics<br />All members receive summary of others’ posts<br />Example:<br />
    40. 40. Social networks connect individuals to like-minded<br />Set up a profile and join groups of interest<br />Arrange face-to-face appointments at an event<br />Examples: Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, EventMingle<br />Downside: Time investment from many before any benefit<br />
    41. 41. Integrate event social networks with registration database<br />Brand network to match event<br />Ask attendees to join network at registration<br />Bring Tweets, LinkedIn, into event<br />
    42. 42. Mobile applications enhance event experience<br />Lead Retrieval<br />Bartizan iLeads<br />Techneat<br />Audience Response<br />VisionTree<br />Networking<br />SpotMe<br />Dozens more:<br /><br />Bartizan iLeads<br />
    43. 43. Web 2.0 creates a meeting environment, with a new set of issues to address.<br />Controlling your Web 2.0 systems<br />Make people “opt-in” to public displays<br />Review posts for compliance, not opinions<br />Enforce professionalism<br />Control content, friends, comments<br />Controlling the outside Web 2.0<br />Publish company policies<br />Monitor keywords with Google Alerts<br /><br />Respond to fair criticism and false information<br />
    44. 44. Enter Data<br />Run Rooming List<br />Prepare Event Resume<br />Double-check accuracy<br />Planner<br />Send to Hotel<br />Back to Hotel<br />Enter Data<br />Enter Data<br />Enter Corrections<br />Create BEOs<br />Run Hotel List<br />Create BEOs<br />Supplier<br />Back to Planner<br />Now - data entry and transfer of printed documents.<br />
    45. 45. Web Servers<br />Database<br />Other Services<br /> Credit card processing<br /> Travel GDS<br /> CRM, Employee Databases<br />Attendee<br /> View event web site<br /> Register online<br /> Cancel / modify<br />Internet<br />Supplier<br /> Respond to RFP<br /> Set up BEOs<br /> Room Lists<br />Planner<br /> Manage event objectives<br /> Communicate with attendees<br /> Share data with suppliers<br />Data Transfer (XML)<br /> Event RFP<br /> Rooming List<br />ESG<br />The future will have seamless data exchange.<br />
    46. 46. How will we get from here to there?<br /><ul><li>Data Exchange Standards
    47. 47. All trading partners must adhere to a common standard for data exchange
    48. 48. First, the standard must be developed
    49. 49. CIC (Convention Industry Council)
    50. 50. APEX (Accepted Practices Exchange)
    51. 51. OTA (Open Travel Alliance)
    52. 52. XML (Extensible Markup Language)
    53. 53. Standard structure for Web-based data exchange</li></li></ul><li>APEX data standards can save time, reduce errors<br /><ul><li>Example: Meeting professional manages housing block
    54. 54. Click a link when rooming list is due
    55. 55. Hotel instantly receives data in their system
    56. 56. APEX/OTA standards
    57. 57. Event RFP (OTA 2005B)
    58. 58. Hotel Rooming List (OTA 2006A)
    59. 59. Event Specification Guide (ESG) (OTA 2006B)</li></li></ul><li>Web services offer communication channels between systems<br />Single Sign-On, Automated reports, Web services<br /><br />
    60. 60. APEX should be seamless to Planners<br />Similar to credit card processing experience<br />1<br />2<br />
    61. 61. Questions and Discussion<br />Subscribe to my Blog at<br />Rick Borry, Ph.D.<br />Email:<br />Twitter:<br />LinkedIn:<br />Certain Software:<br />P: 415-345-2715<br />