How to Measure the Success of Your Event

Here's what to keep in mind as you set up processes to measure how well your conference went.

Measuring the success of your conference is so important, and yet it can be hard to do well.

Part of the problem is that success can mean different things to different people. Maybe total attendance was flat (cue sad CFO), but feedback on the sessions was better than last year (cue happy VP of education), or you brought in a higher than normal number of new attendees (cue high-fives in the marketing department).

Many associations put all of their measurement eggs in the post-event-survey basket and make any meeting tweaks based on that feedback. Such a survey can deliver good data, but it’s probably not as helpful as you want it to be.

“The sad truth is, people will give you great feedback about your event while it’s happening, whether they liked it or not. (They want to be nice!),” wrote Jennifer Hawkins in an article for Successful Meetings.

But all is not lost. Here are three things to keep in mind as you consider how to measure your next major meeting.

1. Metrics are your friend.

You can’t measure what you don’t track, so find or create a spreadsheet or dashboard that works for you and use it throughout the meeting.

Moira O’Brien, director of sales at Chicago’s McCormick Place, sees a lot of conferences each year, and she recalls one particularly data-mad group. “One customer had metrics for every facet of their event and had a dashboard for the entire event,” she said. “They were constantly measuring everything. They knew which sessions were over-capacity and which were 85 percent full.” Knowing this information then led this group to questions like: Did we market the right sessions to the right attendees? Should we offer more types of this popular session in the future?

“Have some kind of dashboard that you can use during the event to make sure you are meeting your goals,” O’Brien suggested.

2. Your conference is on a value continuum.

It’s important to remember that your conferences don’t exist in a vacuum. If your association produces webinars and topical education conferences throughout the year, then those events will not only inform the content of the annual conference but will also color attendee perceptions of the event.

“Many groups study the annual meeting and ignore all other events,” said Dean West, president of Association Laboratory Inc., a consulting group in Chicago. “You don’t want to isolate meetings and ignore other ways members interact with the association. The decision to attend an event is not made in isolation.”

3. Your post-event survey might need a makeover.

Post-event surveys can give associations more detail on what went well (and what didn’t), but many surveys aren’t asking the questions that reveal helpful information.

In a post on Associations Now, Samantha Whitehorne, wrote about a post-event survey she received that didn’t get to the heart of what she got out of the conference (which she did find very helpful to her work).

“Research consistently [shows] that people go to conferences to make connections and get practical ideas that they can implement once they’re back in the office, [so] it’s probably time for associations to rethink the questions on their post conference surveys,” Whitehorne wrote.

Consider starting off the survey with this basic but illuminating question: What were your goals in attending this conference? Next question: Did the conference deliver on them? These answers will help you deliver a conference experience that your attendees truly want and find helpful to their work.

Finally, don’t overlook the help that your venue partners can provide. Like O’Brien, they really do see it all and can share how other organizations have successfully handled event measurement.

Chicago is at the top of its game when it comes to hosting meetings. The city can accommodate any size group, offering a range of options for each meeting facet. Each article in this eight-part, how-to series tackles a specific piece of the meeting planning puzzle as part of the ultimate meeting playbook.

(Handout photo)