by Bob Walters | November 30, 2009

Back in September 2007, we wrote about a new innovation -- RFID (radio frequency ID) -- that was beginning to be incorporated into name badges to track attendees at sessions and trade shows, and facilitate lead retrieval. The technology has improved over the past two years, hence this update.

Today there are two types of RFID chips that can be embedded in badges -- active and passive. One of the best examples of an active RFID chip would be the nTAG Wave (, which combines attendee tracking with social networking and lets attendees share information with exhibitors and other attendees.

An active RFID chip is constantly transmitting, much like a cell phone looking for a tower. When it encounters a reader/scanner or another device (i.e., name badge) looking for a signal, the information is transmitted. In the case of nTAG, the system can be set up to let people find other attendees with similar profiles, interests, etc.

Passive RFID badges transmit information only when they receive a signal from a scanner or reader. Some companies prefer them for security purposes, as the data is not transmitted without a corresponding request.

RFID can be embedded in the badge or in a separate card, much like a credit card. One of the more popular providers of RFID is SmartReg International Inc. (, which offers a wide range of technology and services, including lead-retrieval equipment.

There are several ways that RFID can speed up registration and streamline the interaction of attendees with instructors, exhibitors and each other. One example would be generating the RFID cards in advance and mailing them to attendees. When they arrive on-site, they can simply scan the cards and be recorded as attending, and their badge, agenda and any other materials could then be instantly printed.

When issuing continuing education credits, it's important to record not only that a person attended a session but how long he stayed. Knowing they will only get credit based on the time they are in the room, attendees will remain in the room for sessions and not just drop by to sign in and pick up materials.

Lead retrieval has been the driving force in fine-tuning these technologies as exhibitors have asked for more refined information. Beyond a record of people who stop by the booth, they want metrics like aisle traffic, demographic profiles of attendees and improved fulfillment services.  With RFID, a stack of business cards becomes passé, as scanning a card, updating profile information on a smart phone or lead retrieval device, and then transmitting via the Internet to the office for fulfillment or further research becomes possible.

Bar Coding
A less expensive approach than RFID is to print bar-codes on name badges that can be scanned using inexpensive handheld or stationary scanners. TalTech ( can quickly get you up and running via bar-coded badges and simple scanning devices for uploading and importing to your database or connecting directly to a PC for automatic recording.

Collecting attendance information is as easy as either manually scanning the badge or having a stationary scanner where attendees swipe their badges to record their attendance. However, you will need to then develop a way to update the information in your meeting management or CEU tracking system to save you valuable time rekeying attendance data.

Many vendors are incorporating bar-coded badges into their software offerings, so check with your current supplier or ask about this capability when looking for new software solutions.