How to hook attendees early with event registration incentives

By: Mark Fisher

What you need to know

  • Advanced engagement tactics recognize the value of relationships in driving registrations.
  • Combining both approaches ensures tickets move quickly and registrants are excited for the event. 

event attendee registering with an early bird incentive

We all know that “the early bird catches the worm.” However, planning meetings and conferences is all about catching the early bird. Securing early-stage attendee counts matters. Event operations professionals understand that these numbers are critical for ensuring your event is profitable and that the experience is a success for all stakeholders. A surge of walk-up registrations, unfilled sessions or an unused hotel room block is an unwanted surprise.

Yet trends toward delayed and last-minute registration continue. According to a Trade Show News Network report, 98% of show organizers reported that attendees register later for trade shows compared to pre-pandemic times.

So, how can event management professionals hook prospective attendees earlier? Offering a variety of event registration incentives helps you lock in commitments and expand opportunities to engage your audience. Keep reading to learn how to look beyond tried-and-true tactics and create more advanced strategies.

Proven methods to incent event registrations 

Traditionally, early bird offerings create a sense of urgency. They lure attendees to secure a spot “before it’s too late” with juicy discounts and other perks. Common early registration promotions include:  

  • Suite upgrade or room discount at the host hotel
  • Entry to win a free badge to next year’s program
  • Early bird discount 
  • Group discount if more than one attendee from the same company signs up; discount applies up to a certain date

These offers can all be effective tactics to drive meeting or conference registrations. They become even more powerful when integrated into a more comprehensive, SEO-optimized event marketing plan. 

view our white paper: personalize the event experience with data

5 advanced engagement tactics to drive early event registrations 

Engaging key stakeholders in the leadup to an event can amplify your promotional efforts. Think about the offers and resources that will encourage each segment to act.  

1. Past attendees

If this isn’t your inaugural event, consider past attendees among your early registration prospects. Be ready to announce next year's dates and location at the conference’s close. Create an opportunity for current attendees to re-commit at a discounted rate right away. A short post-conference survey gathers feedback and encourages them to open their early access invitation. Closer to the event, re-share the photo gallery with highlights and traditions from years past to create FOMO. 

Advanced: Give them a referral code. If they get a certain number of folks to use that code (which can also include a discount), they can win prizes or VIP opportunities.  

Related: Incorporating traditions into experience design gives repeat attendees something to look forward to, ties groups together and more.  

2. Sponsors

Program sponsors can be excellent partners in advancing your event marketing plan. They have a vested interest in promoting to a packed house and already show an affinity with your brand. 

Advanced: Give them tools (templates, discount code, email and social media sample verbiage, FAQ info, etc.) that let them send invitations to their target audience early. A special offer like access to a white paper creates an additional incentive. Or lean into any of their influencer marketing relationships to generate buzz about the event among people who likely already have brand awareness and affinity. 

3. Event advisory board

Enlist representatives from top attendee companies, exhibitors, sponsors and speakers to be part of a pre-planning group. They can offer input to shape the event content and format. This deep engagement can turn them into event ambassadors. 

Advanced: Create friendly competition among the group by challenging them to reach out to their networks and see who can drive the most registrations by the early bird deadline. Remind them that relationships are everything, and a phone call does wonders when an e-invite can get funneled to spam. Offer their attendees an exclusive opportunity like a VIP reception, VIP seating for a session, “skip the line” privileges, exec breakfast, swag bag, etc. 

Related: The best way to evolve your event is by asking attendees, sponsors and stakeholders what they liked and where the event missed the mark.

4. First-timers

If your event is annual, think about creating a special first-timer reception where they can network and meet-and-greet with panelists or presenters. 

Advanced: Offer newbies who register early free access to a pre-conference webinar with teaser content that helps them recognize the value, even if they’ve never been before. 

5. Non-attendees

People who have a calendar conflict that prevents them from attending could be among your events’ biggest fans. Although they may have to choose a family reunion over your conference, they can still contribute to viral marketing efforts. 

Advanced: When invites go out for your event, don’t forget to include a postscript that encourages them to share the opportunity. “Can’t make it this year? We’d love if you could share this invite with someone you feel would be interested!”

Sustain excitement among early bird event registrations 

Even before early registrations start pouring in, event managers should build out a pre-event community via the event app, LinkedIn and/or other virtual tools. Plan teaser content and giveaways, post prompts and recognize sponsors. If attendees have an opportunity to engage early and often, your event will remain top of mind. 

Keep track of where registrations are coming from to know what tactics worked best to draw which demographics. Use this information to inform outreach moving forward. If you’re producing several events for the same sponsors or attendee profile, consider bundling the opportunities. Attendees/sponsors will feel like they’re maximizing their investment, and it will help your team get ahead in relationship building.

Have an event on the horizon? Learn how to get creative with attendee data to personalize the experience and improve marketing engagement. 

view our white paper: use data to creatively personalize the event experience
Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher

Mark has been a marketer for over 25 years. After receiving a bachelor's degree in communications from the University of California, San Diego, he spent several years with Ziff Davis Corporation. While at Ziff Davis, he created event marketing plans for some of the largest high-tech tradeshows, meetings and events in the industry. In other roles, Mark was able to explore meeting and tradeshow planning, promotions, and event marketing in the pharmaceutical industry, associations, franchise and other industries. Mark was also a Marketing Manager for the Life Sciences group at Microsoft Corporation. He has had articles published in event magazines and is an established speaker at Exhibitor Show, Healthcare Exhibition Association (HCEA) and Corporate Event Marketing Association (CEMA) events. Mark continues to be an instructor in the Meeting Planner program at San Diego State University. Currently, he holds the position of Senior Sponsorship Event Manager at ITA Group.