Recently a meeting planner was struggling with what she perceived to be a serious problem. The issue was that speakers who chose the special no-cost speaker registration option (which does not include any meal functions) were attending meal functions anyway. Her inclination going forward was to reinforce the rule in writing to speakers, as well as policing the meal functions more carefully. She was reaching out to her fellow planners for their advice. Here’s how I responded:
You are not the first person to struggle with this. But I don’t think it’s a problem that is particularly difficult to solve – it really comes down to a simple financial analysis.
Your conference registration includes three luncheons and two receptions, all of which are available for sponsorship and, therefore, are subsidized in whole or in part. So, your effective per-person cost is relatively low. Your registration fees, on the other hand, are significant: As much as $1,825 for non-members.
So ask yourself these questions:
How important is the quality of your program in terms of driving attendance?
How much difficulty would you have attracting the very best speakers (i.e., the kinds of speakers whose inclusion in the program might actually compel someone to register who otherwise would not) if you fully enforced the rule that non-paying speakers can’t attend any meal functions?
Now I’m sure your answer to the first question is “Very Important,” right? And you’ve already indicated that many of your speakers balk at having to pay, so that suggests enforcement of the “no-pay, no-eat” rule could affect decisions some speakers make to accept an invitation to speak at your conference.
The expression “Tripping over dollars to pick up pennies” I believe is applicable here. As (another poster) suggested (and I think she’s absolutely right), many if not most of your speakers are unlikely to attend the entire event anyway. Between that and the subsidization of your meal functions through sponsorships, the savings you’ll realize through enforcement of that rule can’t be justified given the potential loss of registration revenue.
My opinion (and it is just that, my opinion) is to waive registration fees for speakers and not worry about the few meals they may consume. The goodwill alone might be reason enough anyway.