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Turning up the Feedback

Though they often take a backseat to planning an event, surveys are among the most important tools in an event planner’s toolbox.

Post-conference surveys that gather feedback from attendees of an event, conference or meeting can help planners evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, determine their return on investment (ROI) and prepare for even more successful events to come. However, planners may be unsure of what constitutes the most valuable feedback, how to analyze their data or how to get attendees to respond in the first place. 

We spoke to survey experts to learn about best practices in post-event questionnaires. Here’s what they had to say.

Driving Attendee Response Rates

Driving up attendee response rates to post-conference surveys should be one of the top priorities for planners, because even the best-designed survey is meaningless if no one takes it. 

The first way experts recommend improving survey response rates is to make them less daunting to complete by keeping them short and simple. 

“People don’t have time or interest in doing long surveys,” said Kyle Jordan, director of meetings at Informs, an international association for professionals in analytics and operations research. 

Jordan says he strives for respondents to only spend an average of three minutes on his post-event surveys. Limiting the number of questions or making long-form responses optional is a way to make sure attendees aren’t overwhelmed or put off by the length of the survey. 

Another way to boost response rates is ensuring the survey is as accessible as possible. Digital surveys tend to be easier and more convenient to complete than paper. Putting up a QR code or link on a screen is an easy way for attendees to access it with little hassle. If the event has an app, putting the survey in-app is another way to make it convenient. 

Timing can also be an important factor in determining how many attendees respond. Setting aside a couple minutes at the end of a session or program can encourage them to take the survey while the information is still fresh in their minds rather than sending it out weeks later. 

“You want to make sure people answer the survey and take the time to do it, and usually after the event is done, sometimes they don’t take the time,” said Valerie Bihet, founder and owner of Vibe Agency, a virtual event production and destination management company. 

Finally, offering an incentive to respond to a survey may be another way to increase the number of attendees who answer. However, the incentive should be something attendees perceive as truly rewarding. Large rewards, like a gift card or being entered in a drawing to win a cruise may work better than cheap company swag. 

An even bigger incentive may be letting participants know their responses matter and have directly influenced the program they’re attending. If they recognize the impact their responses can have, completing a survey feels like something worthwhile.

“The best way that we’ve gotten people to respond is by letting them know last year’s survey results mattered, and we made changes because of it,” said Liz Lathan, co-founder of Haute Companies, a collection of brands that encompass services from advertising to event planning.

Asking the Right Questions

To get the most useful data, planners need to know what to ask in their surveys. Each event has many components and countless pieces of information to ask attendees about, so planners need to know what counts and what can be left out.

Rather than asking about the logistics or every single detail of the event, planners should ask questions about the event on a larger scale. 

Asking about things like an event’s communication, content and relevance is “more valuable than asking if they liked any piece of it because opinions are going to be varied,” said Lathan. 

In other words, there’s always going to be someone who wasn’t impressed by small aspects of the event — like the catering — so it’s not helpful to ask about those specifics. Gauging how attendees feel broadly about an event is what allows planners to analyze trends, learn what’s important to attendees and evaluate the event’s ROI. 

Planners can use existing survey models to help them determine this. One common model is the Net Promoter Score, or NPS, model. This model measures the general satisfaction of attendees based on whether they would recommend it. 

Recommending an event is very personal, said Jordan, who uses NPS model survey questions in his post-event surveys. “You don’t recommend something to somebody unless you think it’s really good.”

Another model for post-event survey questions is a relatively new concept derived from a research study designed by Lathan’s company to determine which emotions produce a good environment for generating business and revenue. This model, return on emotion (ROE), measures how well an event makes attendees feel five key emotions that contribute to this environment. A survey that uses the ROE model asks attendees to rate how hopeful, adventurous, accepted, active and motivated they felt during the event on a scale of one to 10. The scores are averaged to determine if the event was a success.

“ROE is a predictor of future business,” said Lathan. “Did we create an environment where business is likely to happen?”

Apply the Results

The main purpose of post-conference surveys is to evaluate an event and determine what changes can be made to ensure a higher ROI in the future. 

“You [use] the survey and feedback to see how you can improve to make a better event next time,” said Bihet. 

If a survey allows attendees to add comments, they may identify specific components they’d like to be different. However, even if a survey uses a model to assess broad trends within a program, the data can still be interpreted and applied in specific ways.

“What we can do is look at those important key drivers and key influencers that help people make decisions about why they attend,” said Jordan. “If we’re not performing well in those areas, how do we take actionable steps to improve in that area?”

For example, if a survey uses the ROE model, the score in each emotion category can tell you which components of the event went over well and which were lacking. If the event receives high ratings in the hope and motivation categories, it’s likely the content or keynote speaker resonated well with the audience. However, low ratings in the adventure category may mean a more exciting agenda is necessary for future events. 

Consistently using surveys is important because it helps measure progress over time. If ratings improve year after year, it means planners are doing something right.

“When looking at a successful evaluation, if you’re not consistent, what’s the point,” said Jordan. “You can’t benchmark.”

Event planners are not the only ones who can benefit from analyzing survey results. Sharing the data with stakeholders can help them determine which attendees would be open to future interactions with them. Sales and marketing teams are more likely to reach successful outcomes with participants who rated the event favorably rather than poorly. Conversely, if the surveys aren’t anonymous and they want to make it up to attendees who rated the event poorly, sales and marketing teams can reach out to them to mitigate the damage and see if they can salvage the relationship. 

It’s also good practice to share information with vendors, sponsors and venues if the feedback is relevant to them. If a respondent gives feedback about the hotel or conference center, providing them with the details is courteous and can foster a better relationship for future collaboration.