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Three Ways to Get Better Feedback About Your Conferences

By / Oct 31, 2019 (ihorzigor/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Post-event attendee evaluations can reveal where your conference hit it out of the park and where it struck out. But do they go far enough? A few possibilities for digging deeper.

Gathering feedback is a critical step after any conference. After all, how can you improve your future events if you don’t have a good assessment of what worked and what failed? Often, associations receive this feedback from attendee evaluations, from monitoring conversations happening on social media, and from activity in the conference app.

While all these tactics help, what other things can you do to better analyze the successes and shortcomings of your events? Here are three possibilities:

Secret attendee. Just as companies hire “secret shoppers” so they can better understand the service and experience their customers receive, you could consider hiring a “secret attendee” who would help you evaluate the onsite attendee experience, including registration, networking opportunities, and education.

For example, part of a secret attendee’s job might be to observe how attendees engage and respond to education sessions, determine how well sessions cater to different learning styles, and assess whether seating and room layouts help or impede the learning process.

Onsite command center. If you want to get feedback in real time and then have the option to respond to it almost immediately, then an onsite command center may be the way to go. That’s what the Society for Critical Care Medicine did at its 2018 conference in San Antonio.

SCCM installed cameras throughout the convention center and created a command center where staffers—at least two at any time—continuously monitored the activity. “We were able to see what was happening in each of the rooms,” former SSCM Business Analyst Karen Boman said in a September/October 2018 Associations Now article. “When a session room would start to get full, we would be able to determine that right away, and then we could plan for an overflow.” The command center also allowed staff to confirm that speakers had checked into a ready room and had presentations ready.

Post-event attendee council. It’s common for associations to have members serve as peer reviewers or on program advisory committees. The role of the former is to evaluate submitted conference proposals, while the latter is tasked with aggregating proposal ratings and reviewer feedback to refine recommendations for what should be included in the conference.

Consider developing other roles for members for after a conference wraps up, such as serving on a post-event attendee council. This group would be asked to provide candid and constructive feedback to your staff. For example, where did the conference exceed their expectations and where did it fall short? What does the conference need to have next year to ensure that they attend again? Their answers and insights will likely prove to be a gold mine of valuable information.

What tactics have you tried to get better feedback about your conferences and events? Tell us about them in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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