By Suzanne Lanctot
Let’s face it. When your association has only one annual event and that event is expected to produce a large percentage of your non-dues revenue, every step must be taken to ensure a unique and memorable experience.
Professional development and education, branding, engagement, networking, building loyalty, recruiting – each component during the event must inspire and contribute to the long-term success of the association.
Did I mention revenue?
Most event planning decisions, both proactive and reactive, should strongly take into consideration the feedback from attendees. Last year’s conference sets the stage for next year. Previous feedback provides the elucidations for a better conference next year with the goal of constant improvement.
But what is the best way to solicit meaningful feedback?
It is generally understood that there are three select times for doing this - pre-event, mid-event, and post-event.
Pre-event questions are more associated with the planning stage of an event and can be carefully crafted based on the feedback from the previous year’s conference or event. Hopefully, through the qualitative and quantitative data ascertained, you will be able to come up with new, fresh ideas for this year’s conference, especially if the conference is moving to a virtual platform. Members and past participants may have some very creative ideas, and who better to provide insights? Objectivity is key.
Mid-event questions are sometimes called “instant” or “real-time” feedback. This can come in several forms, but one of the best ways is by responding to questions through an event app or text messaging. These methods are prevalent now that more and more conferences and events are virtual. Polls can also be used during virtual events, with just a few relevant questions during and/or after each conference session. Such responses are “sooner rather than later” and tend to be unrushed, less reflective and more emotive. The trick is not to distract the attendees – keep the questions short and few. Using mid-event questions, when done properly, can be easier for attendees than the arduous post-conference questionnaire when they are mentally tired and distracted with socializing and good-byes.
Another idea for mid-event feedback for an in-person event is establishing a feedback table. This can be a different approach and provide “real time” responses based more in the moment. A knowledgeable volunteer can reply “in person” during the event and ensure that the participant has been heard…and possibly solicit a video testimonial. Those who are more comfortable in anonymity can use comment cards.
Post-conference questions usually come in the form of the paper and pen survey at the end of the event or the email survey, but these can prove difficult as they challenge the member’s time and can also challenge their reflective memory. Some associations provide pre-loaded survey questions on iPads at the event or provide the link (via email or projected on the screen) and ask participants to complete the survey online before they leave.
I would consider using mid-event feedback if you don’t already. Create an attendee engagement platform and find the balance through the multiple ways of soliciting event feedback. It can be the difference between a good event or a great event…and long-term success for your association.