Ugh, the dreaded printed survey at the end of an event – whether it be a workshop, conference, session, class, it’s always there. Sitting in a nice neat pile at the front of the room ready to be distributed to the participants’ moments after the presenter is done. It’s typically anonymous and asks the same questions you’d find in a job interview (what was the best part, the worst part, do you really REALLY love me??). People scrawl their answers quickly (if they do at all), eager to get to the next session, to meet someone for lunch, to be polite, but most of the information is not truly all that valuable and, worse, it’s often never analyzed further than a quick skim of the answers.
That being said, event feedback is critical to the future of an event’s success but there are some essential problems with the traditional post-event printed survey:
- People often have comments and ideas randomly throughout the course of the event and forget them by the time the survey is handed out
- Most of the time the information is not compiled into a report
- There is generally no comparative scale to use to determine if your event is a success (so everyone said they’d rate it 8/10 – what did your competitors get with a similar event? 10/10, 2/10? Without knowing that information you don’t know how successful it truly was)
- Handwritten comments can be hard to read and take a long time to input into a database
- No one seems to EVER remembers to bring a pen and/or the pen supplied with the survey runs out of ink
When creating your event plan, you should be sure to develop a set of measurable goals that you hope to achieve. Create your feedback materials around these goals to determine how successful you were with meeting them. Asking open-ended questions like “Approximately how many new connections did you make at the event?” is immensely more valuable than a generic “Did you make new contacts? Yes/No” comment.
Ideas for Collecting Quality Feedback
Here are some ideas for creating valuable event feedback that will help you create an even more successful event in the future:
- Real-time event feedback. Have feedback options accessible during the event. A couple great options are to have volunteers or staff in strategic locations hosting Feedback Stations; and an online live feedback app. Remind attendees at regular intervals about these options and invite them to leave a comment when the inspiration strikes. Both are great to have to ensure you're catering to different personality types, and you are able to address any concerns immediately, which may salvage someone’s experience.
- Verbal interviews. These can be done on the spot during the event by staff wandering the venue (or at your feedback station!) with very short surveys, and post-event via a phone call to a random group of people. A focus group could also be held near the end of the event with an incentive such as a networking opportunity with an influential person or a gourmet meal served during it – good food is always an incentive!
- Social media. This feedback going to happen regardless, especially if you’ve planned ahead with a hashtag and a strong online strategy encouraging attendees to participate during the event. Suggest attendees share their thoughts and experiences online and dedicate one or more people to monitor the live feeds and respond quickly and politely to all feedback – positive or negative. After the event have staff compile this feedback into a report.
- Post-event survey – with an incentive. Sending out an online survey via email to attendees within a day or two of the event is being done more often now. This is an effective way to receive feedback while also allowing the attendee time to absorb all that they learned and what they liked and didn’t like, along with being able to respond at their own convenience. The key to success with this method is to make the survey short, simple, and clear, using measurable responses. Always include an option for comments after every open-ended question in case clarification is needed. Include a deadline and an incentive to provide a motivating factor to increase the likelihood of response. Ideally the incentive is related to the event (such as a free product or generous discount that the target market would find useful).
Don’t forget to gather feedback not only from attendees but also presenters and/or exhibitors. Their feedback is an important part of the success of the event; they often see and hear things that an organizer does not have privy to and their experience can affect the likelihood of future presenters and exhibitors signing up for future events.
Once the event is over gather everyone who had a hand in the event and lead a debriefing session within a few days of the event. Use your planned outcome and goal strategy as a guide for the session and collect all of their thoughts and anecdotes about the experience. Add this to your growing feedback stash.
Soooo Much Information – What Now?
Now that you’ve got all this amazing data rich information - what do you do with it all?! Sure, you could put it all into a neatly labeled file and store it away until next time, or you could be a smarty-pants and spend your time on it right now.
I know the last thing you want to do right after an event is look at anything to do with it but trust me on this one. Treat yourself to a fancy coffee and pastry, turn off your devices, hang a DO NOT DISTURB sign on your door, and immerse yourself in all that information. Organize it according to the facet of the event it represents (i.e. promotions, food, presentations, registration, etc.). You’ll then create the mother of all reports and chronicle every comment, opinion, thought, and tweet that happened before, during, and after the event. Once that’s all put into a pretty report, include the recommendations section last. By now your brain is filled to capacity with all the feedback and you’ve likely had some brilliant suggestions and personal brainstorms and now is the time to capture that information.
When you’re ready to plan the next event you will be grateful for that report. You may never read every word of it, but as a resource for yourself, and future event organizers, it will be invaluable and will ensure the next event will be better than ever.