Making the bookings process work

I mentioned in my previous post that I’d be putting up some details about the booking process and why we or rather I, as the conference administrator, made the decisions I did….so here goes!

Bookings table display

Photo: The Next Web via Flickr

When starting to think about the conference and my role as administrator I soon realised that although I can be spectacularly organised I didn’t want to trust something this important not to mention large-scale to my memory and my email inbox.  For past events I’ve been involved in the administrator has handled all the bookings individually through email receipt of booking forms, however I knew that this wouldn’t work for me for several reasons.  The most important of these being that the work for the conference is taking place alongside my normal day job, so I couldn’t devote the time necessary to deal with every single booking individually.  I was also aware that I had several days out of the office planned and didn’t want people to have to wait too long to be registered for the conference, or indeed to have to deal with too many extra emails upon my return!I decided to look into different options for handling the conference bookings; the first option

Image of colourful files

Photo: Jyoseph via Flickr

I considered was talking to our IT department and getting a separate inbox set up to handle all the conference information.  This in principle seemed like a good idea, but when I thought it through I wondered whether there would be a way to do this in a more automated manner, to save me having to keep manually updatable spreadsheets or a database.

Once we as a conference team had agreed that any internal delegates (University of Northampton staff) were going to be attending the conference free of charge it seemed logical to me that I should look to see what tools were out there to help me with the administration.  I’d seen other conferences, and indeed our own HR department, using Eventbrite so this seemed like a great place to start looking.

Eventbrite seemed like the answer to my unspoken prayers, it was flexible enough to allow me to change the look and feel of the site to match our conference design, would collate delegate lists, keep track of all the bookings, and allow me to print delegate badges.  Alongside all of these potentially useful things it also allowed me to email all attendees should the need arise.  All in all it seemed perfect.  However once I’d decided to use this as our main registration point and set the basic Eventbrite page up I came across some issues that made my life a little trickier.  The name badges that you can automatically create didn’t allow for any personalisation, for example the inclusion of the conference logo…now to most people this probably doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but for me I was not happy to use the name badges the Eventbrite would create.  I’d been dreaming about how my perfect name badges would look since I got involved in the conference planning, so I couldn’t give that dream up at this stage!

Other, and in reality, more important areas of concern with Eventbrite was the fees and charging system.  In some ways this wasn’t a big problem as any fees charged by Eventbrite could be passed to the registering delegate, however the problem lay with how we would get the payment from Eventbrite to our own institution, I don’t know about anywhere else but it’s not all that easy for me to sort that out, it would have involved meetings and discussion with our finance department, and to be totally honest when the fee being charged to external delegates was only in place to pay for the food and refreshments it seemed like more work and potential stress than it was worth.

At this stage I had already committed to Eventbrite and so I investigated and found that delegates can be manually added, so to solve any problems in getting payments from Eventbrite to our institution I opted to create a booking form for the external delegates and deal with them manually, enrolling them on Eventbrite, only for the purposes of having a full delegate list from one place.

I honestly believe that without Eventbrite I could have managed the bookings, but it has helped save precious time, not to mention my sanity, but I’m also not going to lie and say it’s all be plain sailing.  When I first set the order form up on Eventbrite I hadn’t realised it was asking all those who registered for details like home address and a few other bits of information that are included as a default.  To make this worse, because I wasn’t registering as a delegate myself due to unfortunately not being in the country on the 19th June, I only found this out when the first of my colleagues on the committee registered and asked if it could be changed – so my sincere apologies to all those who’d registered before that point and I promise the personal details will never be shared!  Perhaps this was not a huge problem and it was one that was easily overcome by unticking a few boxes in the editorial pages of the site but it made me feel like the newbie administrator that I am!

I also encountered a problem when I manually added an external delegate to the Eventbrite page as they received an email from Eventbrite stating that they were registered and that the conference was free, this was because I’d chosen to only set up one ticket type, again this was easily overcome with a quick email.

The only other issue that in the back of my mind is niggling at me is whether I’ve received all the emails from external delegates that have been sent, this wasn’t a problem until this afternoon when I had a phone call asking if there were places left as I’d not replied to an earlier email.  I’ve searched my inbox and have never received the original email, perhaps it will come through in my spam filter tomorrow!  All I can hope is that anyone who’s for whatever reason not heard from me, and is expecting to, contacts me again.  I’d rather that than potentially miss anyone who wants to attend!

There’s one last thing I’d like to say about the conference booking process, registering all the external delegates and handling the payments would not have been possible without the help of our department’s finance and admin assistant, who has been awesome and never complained when I’ve asked stupid questions, of which there have been many!  So thanks Emma!

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