Successfully managing a major meeting (however that is defined in your organization) is an epic event. It’s a gut-check that tests everything you know, your reactions during a vortex of change, your stamina, fortitude, patience, wisdom and skill.
So your big conference or seminar is over, everyone told YOU it was great, the budget looks good and now you can sit back, relax and rest on your laurels for a while, right? Maybe – it all depends on your follow-up.
Make Post-Event Evaluations Meaningful
If you have not utilized a post-event evaluation protocol, you actually have NO idea how your event was received. And you still have time to implement this critical step to hear (and learn) from your constituencies – all of them!
- Did your registrants learn cutting-edge information?
- Did they hear from exceptional and relevant speakers?
- Were the topics on target for the audience?
- Did registrants network with the right people?
- Were the location and the facilities appropriate?
- Was the overall takeaway by your attendees positive?
- And, if they paid a fee (in addition to their expenses), did they get their money’s worth?
All of these factors, and more, are critical to improving your events and meetings every year and should be examined after each event.
Err on the Side of Over-Evaluation.
A general online critique should be delivered within a few days after your registrants return to their offices. If you have exhibitors, they should receive a different online questionnaire tailored to their specific issues. In both cases, the electronic message should include a cover message from your President, Board Chair or Event Chair with an explanation of how critical their feedback is towards improving every aspect of the meeting. A quick evaluation for educational programs and their speakers should, ideally, be done immediately after the session (so make sure that’s on your checklist for next year). Technology which allows registrants to access the survey from their smart phones works best when you are on-site.
What Should You Evaluate?
Just about everything. An overall rating for the entire event, educational content, take-home value, advance registration process, on-site registration, intent to attend event next year, general sessions, scheduling, exhibits, networking events, quality of food & beverage, and your venue(s). Also ask how you, as the sponsoring organization, represented yourself and how did the staff perform.
What Format Should You Use?
A number rating (1-5 or 1-10 are common) is fine, descriptors (excellent, very good, etc.) are equally good or a grade of A-F works as well. The key is to be consistent year-over-year so you can track the trends before they become problems.
Who Should See the Evaluation Results?
Anyone who has a stake in the success of the meeting. That might include an advisory committee, board of directors, senior management team and your staff. Be sure to share the speakers’ evaluations with each speaker – but only their own. Any comments are normally welcome and helpful to your speakers regardless of whether they are from within your industry or professional.
How Should You Interpret Your Results?
First, strive for at least a 20% response. If you fall short, de-dup and send it again with a different cover message. Once you have your results compiled, look at the big picture and any trends in the results. This will provide a clear map on how best to proceed. Most evaluations are anonymous with a name optional. If you get a tough evaluation and the registrant is brave enough to include his or her name, make a personal phone call and talk about the issues raised. Your interest and initiative often transforms a negative or neutral experience into a positive one.
All of your evaluations should have space for comments. But steel yourself and be prepared because they can be tough, sometimes brutal, to read. Any little thing that might be a sore subject is likely to surface --- including whether the restrooms ran out of toilet paper, if you ran out of one appetizer at a reception with 10 options, the meeting rooms were too cold, a microphone failed in one of the 15 concurrent sessions, a speaker or moderator was off topic – it’s all fair game. And it’s all information you need to know! Singular random comments can be set aside. But again, look for patterns. Was the food and beverage rating consistently in the same range? Did 80% or more of your attendees indicate that would be back next year? Did a large number of attendees criticize the lines at registration? Are your registrants generally happy with the networking value of the event?
What About You?
And after all of this, evaluate yourself and how you performed at the event. Many planners remember the mistakes over the triumphs. How could you have responded better or anticipated problems? A great practice to incorporate into your on-site regimen is to keep a running list of ideas or improvements that pop into your head during the meeting (or in the middle of the night) --- and ask your meeting staff to do the same.
Revel in your success while looking to raise the bar for next year. No matter how long you are in this business, you’ll learn something new and identify areas for improvement at every event.