You have planned every detail of your annual conference, but what you haven’t planned for are guests who arrive unannounced. You know, those individuals who show up uninvited at an opening reception, closing banquet or on the trade show floor. They are known as conference crashers, and they can have a negative impact on your attendees, event sponsors and bottom-line revenues.
Understanding a Crasher’s Motivation
There are a few types of conference crashers, and they each want different things. To know how to rid your event of unwelcome guests, you need to know the different types and their reasons for attending:
> Moocher: An individual who shows up uninvited to a reception or keynote session to sneak free food and beverage or to hear a high-profile speaker.
> Outboarder: A person who sets up shop in the form of an "event" in proximity to an event and isn’t sanctioned by the existing event or exhibition, as defined by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events. An outboarder’s purpose generally is to provide a marketing or selling experience apart from those who are an official part of the host event. Outboarding may occur in, adjacent to or separate from a host venue.
> Suitcaser: A nonexhibiting seller who engages a legitimate attendee in a marketing or selling activity at an unsanctioned place, such as a hotel suite, the aisles or off the show floor, according to IAEE. This is often a non-exhibitor passing out flyers or distributing information on a trade-show floor.
Conference crashers are on the rise for a few reasons, namely the economy. Many companies still have tight sales and marketing budgets, which means they have fewer funds to send reps to conferences.
Uninvited guests can negatively affect your event’s bottom line in many ways. Crashers can lead to increased food and beverage expenses; diminished value and credibility of the event; unhappy sponsors; confused attendees who might think they are supporting an official event when in reality they are not; and reduced revenues for both conference organizers and exhibitors.
To reduce the risk of conference crashers, take the following precautions:
1. Assess the event space. Examine every possible access point as part of your initial site inspection. If your event is exclusive and attractive to the general public or competitors, do not use a venue with multiple entrances or hard-to-control entry points.
2. Hire security. It sounds like an obvious solution, but security generally is hired to watch valuables or cash boxes, not to maintain vigilance on conference crashers. Have adequate security primed to watch out for crashers. If the event is high-target one, work with the local police department to enhance the security already in place.
3. Prime the hotel staff. At the pre-convention meeting, warn the hotel team of potential crashers and how to spot them. Advise the venue and participating hotels of potential outboarders who might reach out to seek venue space during your event’s dates.
4. Scan badges. If crashers have been a problem at your events, checking IDs at entrance points may not be enough. Use badges with RFID technology. The chip is encoded with a unique identification number that corresponds to information about the attendee, gathered through registration or from member databases. Participants without the encrypted badge will set off an identifying light when they try to walk in.
5. Initiate a campaign. Advise conference participants in advance about adverse effects of conference crashers, which may include their family members and/or friends.
If unwanted guests still show up, you can implement several removal strategies:
1. Strong-arm them. Always have security personnel deal directly with the crasher. You should be present, but keep a safe distance and stay politically neutral.
2. Deflect food-and-beverage moochers. When dealing with guests who are not part of the event, assume they are lost. Ask, “Hello, are you with group XYZ?” When they are unable to confirm they are with the event, state that the food and beverage is for the guests of group XYZ, not for public consumption. Direct them away from the food station or simply call security to have them removed.
3. Be vigilant. Ask attendees and exhibitors to watch out for possible crashers, and advise them to report any suspicious activity to event management.