register_nowBack in May, we launched a new webinar series to foster sharing of best practices within the Conveners.org community.  Our first webinar “Hacking Early Registration” was a wonderful experience, bringing together a range of voices for a rich discussion. In particular, we wish to thank Lindsay Smalling (SOCAP), Topher Wilkins (Opportunity Collaboration), Ian Fisk (Mentor Capital Network), Jim Turner (Greenermind Summit), Brandi Sterling (The Posner Center), Jessica Fleuti (Net Impact), and Diana Rambeau (Columbia Business School Tamer Center for Social Enterprise) for contributing to the session.  We are excited to share the highlights that emerged from the conversation below.

Best Practice 1

Have a significant discount for the early bird. This is a helpful way to incentivize others to sign up sooner rather than later. Net Impact for example offered a flash sale this spring which tripled the number of registrations they expected. Opportunity Collaboration also sees high levels of registration early on by offering a significant discount almost a year in advance of the event.

Best Practice 2

Never publically extend the early bird period. Doing so conveys to the broader community that either your conference isn’t worth the price of a full registration, or that you are in some way desperate for registrants.  Instead, if you have a particular individual who requires financial assistance use a special promo code.

Best Practice 3

Provide a discount through channel partners that is more than a “token” gesture. This shows your partners that you value your relationship with them, and that partnering together offers tangible benefits.  It also incentivizes them to help spread the word about your event.  Depending on the price of your event a 15%-30% discount is meaningful to partners.

Best Practice 4

Utilize partnership networks and the media early on to gain a louder voice. Spreading the word of your event far and wide is essential to getting the most out of your early registration period. Enlist the help of partner networks 3-4 months prior to your event, so they have enough time to spread the word.  If you are requesting support through social media – be sure to do the heavy lifting for your partners.  Provide sample tweets, LinkedIn posts, and newsletter blurbs to partners when you request their help.

Best Practice 5

Reach out to registrants who only get part way through the process to see if you can help answer any questions. For high- touch events where you have the resources to connect with each registrant directly it can be extremely helpful to follow up with people regarding any concerns they might have.

Best Practice 6

Develop a clear understanding of your target market as registrations come in to both understand their needs and fill remaining spots. At the time of the webinar, Opportunity Collaboration had 80% of their registrations filled – and the event isn’t until October.  Because of this, conference leadership had a clear understanding of attendee profiles and a sense of their needs and interests.  As such, the conference is able to spend the remaining months to strategically fill the gaps with select attendees.

Best Practice 7

Share the event details gradually and use technology to facilitate the registration process. This year SOCAP used the “Black Box” to hack the registrations. During the Black Box sale they only shared the dates and location of the event thereby avoiding the pressure to share content that was not fully ready. After the Black Box sale, tickets increased in price incrementally through the week before the event. This maximizes the positive financial impact of the very human tendency to wait until the last minute. Every time the prices rose, there was spike in registrations. This in turn evened out the flow of ticket sales.

Challenge 1

Deciding on the right number of pricing tiers. For Opportunity Collaboration, Topher said that they have worked with a 5-tier ticket model as well as a 3-tier ticket model. However, they are still on the fence in regards to which one works the best. If you have any insights on the optimal number of tiers, please share your thoughts in the comments for this article.

Challenge 2

Effectively getting on people’s radar early enough for them to benefit from early bird pricing. In case of SOCAP, Lindsay candidly shared that the toughest task is spreading the word. If someone doesn’t know about the event until 2 months before the convening tickets are already full price. The ongoing challenge is to get people’s buy-in seven to eight months before the event.  A similar issue was faced by Mentor Capital network, where Ian mentioned that since theirs is a finalists presentation event, they only get to know who the finalist are 30 days before the convening. Thus even though they provide heavy discounts on early bird tickets, they aren’t able to hack a lot of early registrations. If you have any insights on how to spread the word more easily, please share your thoughts in the comments for this article.

Challenge 3

Being able to provide enough information about content early on to get people interested, when many details have yet to be confirmed.  Jim Turner of GMS pointed out that one of the challenges in using an unconference model is that you do not know the workshops and other content until right before the event.  In that case they are relying on the community and friend referrals.  SOCAP provided the “Black Box” as one suggestion – but that seems to only work with events that have strong brand recognition and track record.  If you have any insights on ways to attract attendees before content is formalized, please share your thoughts in the comments for this article.

Challenge 4

Accepting that some people will always wait to register right before the event. In case of the events at the HUB, the registrations are the highest just days before the event. In fact some people try to buy tickets at the door.  The heuristic we have seen at Conveners.org is that anywhere from 20-40% of registrations (regardless of the event) come in in the last two weeks.  This causes stress to organizers and can concern sponsors and partners.

We also found that paid events have a 50% higher turnout than free ones. People simply are not as committed when the ticket is free. If you have any insights on other best practices to get around last minute registrations, please share your thoughts in the comments for this article.

Challenge 5

Understanding that different types of convenings require different strategies. The Posner Center hosts events throughout the year similar to the Impact HUB. They have been able to acquire a decent number registration for their events but have found that not all events are created equal. For example their hackathon brings together 100 people in 15 teams, with 5 teams per challenge and would last for two and half days. It also requires that people are not just “attendees” but active participants and programmers.  If you have any insights on other best practices to connect with diverse audiences, please share your thoughts in the comments for this article.