How to Run Convention Pre-registration and Registration
Based on My Experience of almost two decades of conventions.

This was written one day after an attempt to reply to someone who wanted tips. Asukatchoo? This is for you! :)

There are six types of conventions that I invented in my own little head that I will use to explain some differences below.

  1. Teeny. Less than 100. Sometimes used by "relaxacons" or private parties, often cons of this size work more on *limiting* access than actually trying to increase it. Sometimes, you don't need any sort of thing more than an invitation for these, but for some security reasons, you may have badges.
  2. Small. From about 100 - 500. Most cons fall into this category.
  3. Medium. From about 500 - 1500. Most large, established cons fit this category.
  4. Large. From about 1500 - 3000. Some really established city cons fall in this category.
  5. Huge. From about 3000 - 10,000. Big cons. Often merchant-centric.
  6. Ginormous. Over 10,000. You are probably a corporate entity at this point or one hell of a popular LARP. Your problems are beyond the scope of this help file, since they probably involve real legal issues.


Pre-registration, or "Pre-reg" as it it known, is the first source of money into your convention. But before you start sending out flyers, keep in mind some points.
  1. What will the price be? This sounds like a "duh" question, but you should set your price based on what you think people can afford, people will pay, and covering the costs of the convention. Apart from any advertising and merchant fees, this will be the main source of pre-convention income. The rule of thumb is no less than half of "at-the-door" at any point. Like if your "at-the-door" is $50, first pre-reg should be $25-30 over six months in advance, 35$ from 6 months to 3 months, and maybe $40-45 from 3 to 1 month.
  2. Impose a hard core, no holds barred, non-sissy deadline for pre-regs. The common one is via postmark. The postmark gives you legal backing. But another thing that has burned some cons I have worked for in the past: allow *at least* one month for checks to clear. That means if your con is on Friday April 13th, you shouldn't accept anything after March 13th, one month earlier. Honestly, I wouldn't accept it after March 1st. This will allow for the post office to be late getting you your mail legitimately postmarked on time, and then waiting for checks to clear. You will still get those who will try and save the 5 bucks or whatever by sending it after the deadlines. You will hear all kinds of excuses, or even more infuriating, none at all. Some people assume that sending in "full price" (at-the-door) will be okay after the deadline, so make sure you mention THAT in your rules.
  3. Have a solid policy on bounced checks, refunds, and cancelations. Some cons impose a fee for refunds after a certain time, some don't. Some don't even accept refunds after a certain date. But for mercy's sake, have a policy on how to handle refunds and post it on the flyers and web site. Bounced checks should include a fee that covers your bank fees, plus nuisance, if you so desire. In 2000, I have seen them usually range from $25-35 per check bounced. But also expect that many people who bounce checks you will never hear from again. Oh, they may come to the con, but pay at-the-door rather than admit to a fault. Even more sneaky, if the bounced pre-reg check was for $35, and you have a $25 fee, but cost at-the-door is $50... they can vanish, hoping you won't prosecute, and save $10.
  4. Keep a list of all who have signed up and paid. Good data to have is:
    1. Their full, legal name. Like "James Anderson" instead of "John" or "Lord Razorsnake." This will be a lifesaver if somehow, legal issues come up.
    2. Their mailing address. This can be used to mail back confirmations, but can also be used to check ID. At least get city and state to figure out where your people come from.
    3. A contact phone number. This can be used for any crisis issues, like a confusing entry, bounced check, or so on, where mailing would not be quick enough.
    4. E-mail. This is the best kind of contact info, if they have it, because you can always quote them back, or send out forms quickly and cheaply.
    5. A few cons I have gone to ask for a "Fan Name" or a name printed on the front of their badge. Supposing you offer such a feature, you should have a default for people who do not send in their name they want on the badge (which surprisingly will be the unimaginative majority). If this is the case, NEVER make assumptions on nicknames. Not all people named "Nathaniel" go by "Nate" or "Jennifer" by "Jenny." Just use what they gave you. Some cons use first initial, last name, like "J. Peterson," which often causes the least amount of guesswork and anguish. Also, avoid using titles like "Mrs.", "Ms.", or "Mr.", either, because you may get unisex names (Francis, Terry, Pat, etc.) or even a "Dr."
  5. Make forms easy to fill out, and have basic, core rules on them. For one con, I processed over 750 basic forms that they printed from the web, and still, about 100 of them filled it out wrong. Some didn't include zip or phone number. A few forgot to put down names of other people they were paying for! So I had badges for "John Smith" and two, unnamed friends. Or they listed everyone, but were paying for 3 adults and 2 minors, but didn't list who was who. The last one was my fault, because there was nowhere on the form that told them to do so. Also have rules like, "By sending us this money, you agree to blah blah..." Make sure that you had on the flyer or web page stuff about cancellations, refunds, and what's included in the price, and if they need to pay extra (a LARP, for instance), that will be on the form, or NOT be on the form. Years ago, many people assumed since the LARP was $10, that they could just send it as one big check to the convention, not the company that was running the LARP. This caused mass confusion.
  6. Give out confirmations. All conformations should be personalized for cons sized "medium" on up. What I mean by personalized is have their name and other info on the paper (or ticket), or at the very least, have a "confirmation number," which can also be their badge number. This will remove the possibility of duplication or fraud en masse. I have worked for cons that have used things as simple as cash receipts from a cash book (available for an office supply store near you) to embossed tickets or even send them their badge ahead of time! I wouldn't easily advise sending a badge ahead of time if you are a "large" on up, because you don't want someone to have time to come up with a good mass duplication of badges, no matter how you laminate or hologram logos. Even if it's a crude copy, when you have 2000+ badges to check at a door every few hours, a lot can slip through unnoticed. When I was a teenager, we had a guy who roomed with us who worked for Kinko's, and he could easily duplicate anything (although, he really only did it for a few of his friends). Four badges for the price of one. So that's something to think about. Confirmations were also a lifesaver at one convention I did pre-reg for, when for some reason, a batch of people between badge numbers 147-160 were never printed badges. They confirmations targeted the mistake (a sheet of labels must have been lost), and I was able to tell reg what I thought happened, and what to expect. But above all, confirmations give a lot of attendees a peace of mind. For one con, I sent out mails, e-mails, *and* listed people on the web site (last name, first initial, City, and State only for privacy reasons). Not only that, I had filed all their applications, and had them with me. And this kind of redundancy turned out to be a life saver in that last case. It also fixed some issues where someone paid for their kids, but didn't bother to list them on their application. This was more common than I would have guessed, and exposed a problem when the checks were being processed by one person, the registrations by another. They are now done by the same person.
  7. Keep a master list of all the data. Back it up often. Print it out and send a copy to the con chair, or someone else you trust that is physically far away from you. One con had a pre-reg list in a database on a computer that was destroyed by a residential fire. Their backups... were on the same computer. Their hard (printed) copy was in the same house that caught fire. Luckily, they had just sent out another copy on floppy disk to the people printing out the badge labels, and it was mostly updated. But they were panicking for a while!

Keep in mind, even with the best promotion, the usual score is 25% of those attending will pre-register. So if you have 500 pre-reg's, plan for about 2000 people or more. The only exception to this is where pre-registering is a requirement, like some sponsored gaming cons.


I once was guest at a convention that was a severe disaster. It was run by people who had never done this sort of thing before, although they were supposedly taught by some other people who ran very successful conventions. A good example was when I arrived, they didn't know who I was. I went to a table labeled "Pre-registrasion" [sic], and was informed it was actually what most people consider registration (that is, you have not paid up until now, and you pay here), and the "pre" part meant to fill out forms. But it wasn't open anyway, even though the convention had already started. It turns out they had almost no organized volunteer system at all, and just didn't have the manpower to run registration yet. I went to the place where I was supposed to pick up my pre-paid badge, and had trouble finding it because it was unmarked, and at the dead end of an out-of-the-way, unmapped hallway of the convention center. The staff there wouldn't give me a badge at first until I told them I was a guest. That's when the surly man handed me a box of loose badges, and asked me to pick my name from them. Hell, I picked up Gary Gygax's badge, and could have been him for the whole con (for those not in the know, he's the inventor of modern role-playing games as we know them today, major star in the gaming industry). But I am an honest soul, and found mine. I was told that they weren't going to give pre-reg badges until registration opened. The people behind the counter were exasperated, angry, and stopped caring hours before I got there. In the end, a convention that expected 14,000 - 20,000 attendees got little over 1200.

The reg/pre-reg thing was just ONE of the problems they were having, but it illustrates just how important it is.

At-the-door will *usually* be 75% or more of your admission sales. This is the place that will make or break your convention. Treat it like gold if you want to have a second convention. Think of the fan's point of view! Best way to do this is stand in line or watch the lines at other conventions. Then apply them to your own convention. Things to think about are:

  1. Traffic flow. Fans gotta line up somewhere. Will this be easy to do? Is there a simple way to determine where the line ends, and which line you should be in? Nothing is more frustrating that waiting an hour to find out you were in the wrong line. Is anyone making sure that the line is not interfering with hallway traffic? Security sometimes does this, but it's helpful to have one or two volunteers who can answer questions, make announcements, and keep things in order. Is it a real line, or just a confusing tangle of people funneling toward a table or door? People may not even KNOW it's registration if this occurs.
  2. Speed. The faster they get through, the happier they will be. Look at how the fans are directed towards the table or room. Are there easy signs or volunteers helping make sure people are in order? Are there enough volunteers/staff? Is there a "bottleneck" in the process that can be sped up? Major bottlenecks are usually money taking and badge assembly. One convention I know, they do picture badges, and when the camera fails, it stops everything! Is there a decisive management person there who can make quick decisions, like about refunds, or when the hotel or police show up? Is there an easy point of escalation when things go wrong, like fights, thefts, or sudden loss of power?
  3. Security. More than money is at stake. First, make sure that money does NOT stay that the reg area for long, and do frequent money runs. Most people who want to steal will tackle registration. Usually money's in one place, too, like a cash box. Make sure the cash box is emptied frequently, especially of large bills and checks. Make sure there is only one or two TRUSTED people to make money runs, and a very SECURE area (like the chairperson's hotel room safe) where the money can be held before it's dropped off at a bank. Is there enough staff to keep an eye on things. A harried staff is a prime target. Also, what's to stop some stranger from saying, "I am with the staff, I have come up to do another money run?" Nothing? Better think about this. Not only do you have to worry about money, but badges! Some guy gets a hold of all your pre-reg badges, and you are in hot water. Of even if they grab badge blanks, badge holders, or other supplies, you can set yourself up for massive fraud. Not only can troublemakers get in free, but if they cause trouble with the hotel or authorities, and they are wearing your badges? Legal issues a-plenty! Also keep in mind personal belongings of your volunteers. Let them know that a backback under a table can be removed veeery quietly.
  4. Courteousness. Believe it or not, a surly volunteer can clog up the works faster than you can say "I want to speak to convention chair!" Even if the person handing out badges is just cold and uncaring, not directly rude, this person REPRESENTS YOUR WHOLE STAFF. Registration IS the face of the convention. It's the first staff the attendees usually meet. What kind of impression do you want to leave? Now if they are grouches, how can you prevent this? Adequate staffing, a separate info booth, and great staff moral support really help. Have someone make sure people are eating, drinking, getting bathroom breaks, and managing the talent well. Never have someone handle the money who can't do basic math. Never get a shy person to handle crowds. Treat these people with respect and rewards.
  5. Have an info booth. Preferably RIGHT next to the registration table. If this is not a good idea (like traffic flow problems), put it near enough so that registration people, who will not have time to answer for the 10 zillionth time, when they are showing the new Gundam Series, can point to it, or have a rehearsed line of, "The most current information is at the info booth just down the escalator and to your left." People assume registration IS the info booth most of the time. It doesn't matter if you have the most comprehensive program book known to modern science, most people will never read it. At the very least, have a giant map and schedule near registration, with bulletins for important announcements, and a sign that states where the info booth is. Otherwise, your registration will get peppered with constant questions, usually the same ones, over and over.
  6. Communication with head staff. Maybe you have a telephone to ops, a walkie-talkie, or a runner. But when the police arrive to look for a missing teen, you better have a way to top management, and FAST!
Finding weaknesses can be done by a simple run through. Plan ahead. In your mind, you are an attendee, knowing nothing about conventions, who has to be shown where to get a badge, how to get a badge, what they need ready (ID, money, what forms of payment you take), and where to go from there.

Have a real plan in place. Make sure everything is set up and ready to go. Also have some back-up plans. What will you do if: