There is perhaps no such thing as a perfect event. Every event has things that are done well, but also aspects upon which to improve.
“Doing post-event surveys and looking at that data helps event organizers understand what works and what we should keep, but also what to improve and how to improve it,” says Lee Gimpel, founder and president of Washington, D.C.-based Better Meetings. “There’s no end to the questions that we might want to ask at the conclusion of an event. However, try to be conscious of those questions that will give you the most bang for the buck.”
Post-event surveys enable a planner to measure attendee satisfaction and, as obvious as it sounds, ask their audience exactly what it is that they want from the event, says Melissa Park, global event producer for Melissa Park Events, located in New York. “The data collected during the survey process should be used when designing all aspects of your future events, including programming, features, tracks and speakers, as well as assist with the development of a targeted marketing campaign highlighting the most desirable elements of the event to drive future registration,” she says.
Feedback is necessary because it allows planners to understand the event through the eyes of attendees. Many times, planners are too focused on other things to realize what the attendees experience, says Kim Jones, engagement manager with New York-based Welocalize. “This is crucial to any organizer interested in adopting a more customer-first approach to their events,” she says. “As an event planner, showing engagement levels, attendee interest, and other outcomes is important to both shape future events, but also to demonstrate to team members, stakeholders and management the value of participation, and taking employees away from their core responsibilities.”
Madeline Raithel, communications specialist with Entire Productions, a corporate event planning company in San Francisco, notes it’s important to look at every event from a holistic perspective where the pre- and post-production is just as important as the event itself. “Collecting data and surveys will give you insights to the customer’s journey that you otherwise might never know,” she says. “Above all, you want your event to be memorable, so don’t let the journey end as soon they leave. In addition to surveys and data collection, follow up with media from the event and offer incentives for filling out the survey.”
Post-event surveys are critical for evaluating existing meeting and incentive travel, as well as identifying future needs or program adjustments, says Crystal Zawilinski, CMM, CMP, CEM, sales director, meeting & incentive programs for Fox World Travel, headquartered in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. “For incentive travel, surveys allow planners to quantitatively identify those program components which hold the most value, identify types of destinations and properties their attendees are motivated by and even pinpoint future travel destinations of interest,” she says.
Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) also find important information from post-event surveys to help them enhance future events with the meeting planners with which they work. “Receiving feedback from our clients is vital in helping us learn what worked and what didn’t in terms of the services we offer, especially from a meetings support perspective and also seeking information about what planners and attendees might be looking to do or experience while in a destination,” says Sue Porter, director of visitor services at Visit Fairfax in Fairfax, Virginia. “Some questions we ask of planners, post event, include which services they used during their time here, how satisfied they were with them, and with the overall performance in booking their event or meeting.”
Visit Fairfax also looks for feedback on whether its services increased event attendance, and if they would be likely to return to the destination based on their experience. “We also seek feedback on the usage and usefulness of our exclusive Event Planner Toolkit, which helps planners utilize resources specific to Fairfax County, from marketing copy to vendor lists to downloadable collateral,” Porter says. “We take to heart the experiences and recommendations of our visiting planners and implement as we can.”
Even if a planner thinks they’ve done it ad nauseam, Raithel says to make sure a planner starts by collecting the most vital information, such as name, phone number, email address, company name and position. “For attendees, survey their overall feelings towards the event: what they liked about it, what they didn’t, do they plan to attend next year, have they gone years prior, biggest takeaways, would you recommend it to others, etc.,” she says. “You should also survey any sponsors, presenters or vendors and ask if they had everything they needed, their general thoughts on the event, and if they can identify any specific ROI from the event. Surveying your team’s opinions on the overall success of the event by asking for strong and weak points is also very important, and will provide you with great insight.”
According to the experts, surveys should be comprehensive and require minimal effort on the part of the responders, They should include a good mix of rating questions, multiple-choice questions, true and false, and open-ended questions for comments and direct feedback. In a number of cases, surveys get down to such a minute level that it turns off respondents and hurts the results. For example, a planner could ask five individual questions to get feedback about each of the five meals, or they could ask one question about the food served at the event. “In the end, while it’s perhaps less friendly to data analysis, there’s a lot of value in just asking people to write out what they liked and didn’t like, or how they think the event could provide more value in the future,” Gimpel says.
Some of the questions Park says should be on every survey include: “How likely are you to attend the event in the future?” “How likely are you to recommend the event to an industry peer?” and “What month/days of the week would you prefer to attend this event?” The survey should also collect ratings on the overall satisfaction with the event, level of satisfaction for each event feature, and ask what sort of features guests would like to see at future events. “You don’t have an event without attendees. Whether it’s eyes on screens or bums on seats, if you don’t have a thorough understanding of your attendees’ needs and deliver an event that enables them to meet those needs, they’re not going to return,” Park says. “These surveys are literally a direct answer to the question, ‘What will it take for you to show up next year/time?’ If you follow that as you plan, it will put you on the path to event success.”
One of the best ways to ensure you get feedback from the event is to insist that it’s important and then to actually listen to the feedback you get. Especially with events that repeat year after year, attendees probably have an acute sense of whether they’re being listened to or whether the survey is just a formality. “To ensure that a survey isn’t just an afterthought, really think about how you’re going to get feedback,” Gimpel says. “If you’re throwing survey forms at people as they’re walking out the door to catch a flight or to go to the next session, you’re probably not going to get much participation — and then the participation that you do get will be quite skewed. Rather than thinking about an email that goes out a week after the event, think about setting aside time at the event to have people give you feedback.”
Another aspect of getting feedback is to not overwhelm people with a form that looks like a tax return. It’s not uncommon for evaluation forms to have tons of questions to accommodate lots of different departments and stakeholders. “All those questions can turn people off from filling it out,” Gimpel says. “You’d probably rather get 50% of your attendees filling out five good questions, instead of 5% of your attendees filling out 50 questions.”
Park thinks the most effective way to collect data is to deliver the questions in bite-sized chunks, and tie the answering of those questions to an event competition or game. For example, implement a points system where the answering of each question is done via the event app or via fun activities around the site that are worth a certain number of points. All of these points can be redeemed for product at the event swag store toward the end of the event. “Standard post-event surveys sent out via a survey software program can work well too, however to get a good response, you really need to attach a very valuable prize to encourage its completion,” she says.
Jones notes post-event surveys should be sent out as soon as possible after your event concludes. “Statistically, you’ll have a higher response rate the closer you are to the end of the event, as impressions are still fresh in people’s minds, which should lead to more useful data and comments,” she says. “In fact, we saw a 34% increase in response rates when we switched to launching a survey at the close of a webinar verses sending the next day in an email.”
Markus Albert, managing director at Eat First, a global corporate food services and event-staffing platform, says one of the most effective ways to collect post-event data, in addition to surveys, is to make good use of automated systems to manage registrations. “Make sure registration systems are asking attendees to provide things like names, addresses, contact information, age, employer, where they live, etc.,” he says. “The information you want to collect will be context-specific, but having good registration systems in place will do most of the important leg work for you.” He adds that mobile apps that require registration and which attendees use to navigate and sign-up for things like different speakers, request various accommodations, or enter for raffles or rewards are also amazing at generating a wide range of useful data points.
There are a few different ways information from surveys can help planners improve their events. First, it may confirm what they already know, and what they already find works well, so that they can build on that. Second, data can show the gaps where things are not working. “It may be that we have a hunch that something isn’t going to go over well, or we see a spike in the data that shows us something unexpected,” Gimpel says.
Take, as an example, scoring metrics for speakers and the event format — from quality of the presentations to interaction with the audience — surveys provide opportunities for keeping what’s working and fine-tuning what might not be ideal. But, in addition to what planners themselves take from the data, it’s a valuable tool to take to the rest of the organization and be able to say that you should be doing things differently — and here’s the proof. “Whether it’s changing a caterer, moving to a different venue, or altering the format of the event, change is always difficult, and having cold, hard numbers to prove your point can make it easier to do something new,” Gimpel says.
Zawilinski says conducting a survey should be just the first step in your post-event analyzation process. “It is important for the planner to analyze and then implement information learned for future programs,” she says. “Data can be used to determine which session topics are relevant and valuable to attendees, to identify the perceived value of program components or to identify areas where current content may be lacking. Data should also be compared year-over-year to identify trends and provide improvements for future programs.”
The data that’s collected is no good if a planner isn’t going to make changes based on the feedback. “One of our vertical specialties is the legal industry,” Jones says. “Surveys were able to tell us that some of our clients and contacts were interested in receiving Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits for webinars. Based on this feedback, our team worked with various state bar associations to qualify some sessions for CLE credit.”
Park’s biggest change came from a post-event sponsor survey. Results indicated that rather than standard conference based benefits, sponsors wanted bespoke packages that extended far beyond the show, and offered more of an ongoing partnership or collaboration type of arrangement. “With survey results in hand, I arranged follow-up meetings with each top tier and potential top-tier sponsor to delve deeper into their company and event goals,” she says. “Through the survey and these meetings, I got the info I needed to design custom packages for each of these sponsors that met both their needs and my client’s, resulting in us exceeding our sponsorship revenue target for next year at the following event.”
With more meetings and events turning to the virtual format over the past year, post-data surveys became very necessary because it was a new way to do things for most everyone involved.
Prior to the pandemic, Welocalize’s in-person events were real-time, and Jones was not faced with fitting attendees into a time slot that agreed with multiple calendars. “In the beginning of the switch to virtual events, we relied heavily on feedback from our attendees to assess not only best times, but also the structure of the events,” she says. “Were they interactive and engaging — should we work in a casual cheese pairing with a meet and greet? Is the timing of the event conducive to the current business climate? Interestingly enough, as the pandemic has continued, our surveys helped us to adjust and adapt. We use our event surveys to evaluate if we are providing our internal and external audiences with a balanced mix of education and information, without overextending screen time.”
For Gimpel, on a small but important level, he thinks about how the online events he was involved with were starting with a few instructional minutes of how to use the platform. “Feedback from surveys pushed me to offer a quick pre-session on that, so that when the event itself started, we didn’t have to waste time going over what the different buttons and menus do,” he says.
Raithel says she can’t always be on every virtual event to see if there were any tech malfunctions. “Sometimes, they’re so minor that the organizers on the call may forget, but that does not mean they are negligible, so you have to remind them to make fine-tuning corrections on the virtual event software,” she says.
According to Adam Riggs, CEO of Social Hour, a company that provides a platform for virtual events, one of the benefits of these events is that the platform provides a more seamless way to offer a survey and gather real-time feedback during the event. Because attendees are already online and there are many digital options for conducting surveys, it’s more natural than needing to push people online after an in-person event, he says. Near the close of the virtual event, the host could mention the survey and provide a link attendees can go to while they are online. Event planners can also provide a survey link in a post-event email. He adds, to increase participation, event planners could have a raffle where all the people who complete the survey are entered to win a prize.
Planners may say they’re surveying the audience for a lot of different things, but at the end of the day, it largely comes down to ROI. Conference organizers, attendees and sponsors all want to have a valuable experience. Surveys can help deliver that to them in a form that they appreciate and are willing to pay for in both their time and money. Obviously, “post-event surveys help measure ROI,” Raithel says. “By periodically surveying and collecting data throughout the event production timeline and comparing it to post-event data, you can determine if objectives were met.”
Attendee feedback is essential because these survey responses can bring to light many event-based details that may or may not be on a planner or DMO’s radar, whether they are positive experiences that can be made even better, or logistical/operational things that can consistently be improved. “In addition, surveys help with ROI because we may discover that costly line items are not actually resonating with the audience,” Gimpel says. “For example, the expensive band that you book for the reception may turn out to be a negative because it keeps people from actually meeting and talking with their peers while competing with a cacophony of classic rock tunes. Or, in lieu of a pricey outside keynote speaker, you may discover that the audience would prefer to interact with their peers.”
It is obviously possible to correlate event ROI based on attendance and post-event sales. So, while a survey is not necessarily an indicator or ROI, what survey metrics can give meeting planners are quantifiable measurements and key indicators of how much value your event brought to attendees. “As clients and prospects travel through the customer journey, measuring the engagement levels and event takeaways can help drive better relationships, structure and format of future events, and chart a path for what’s next in the client journey,” Jones says. C&IT