Long gone are the days when you only surveyed meeting attendees after an event ended, filing the results away and checking the box that meant the step had been completed. Now, more than ever, meetings professionals are embracing the idea that surveying at multiple critical steps along the way helps ensure we are collecting participant feedback as we go, allowing us to pivot to create an even more memorable experience for those who attend our events. Easier than ever to build, execute, aggregate and analyze, surveys are a critical tool in helping meetings professionals remain innovative and creative as they work to shape events to meet participant expectations.
In my experience, surveys are one of the most underrated – and most important – tools in the marketing toolkit. And while post-event surveys are still a must, we should also be using them before and during our events to help us achieve some important goals, including validating agendas, taking attendee satisfaction pulses at key points during a program, staying in tune with your partners and sponsors, and monitoring overall satisfaction.
A significant area of focus for today’s meetings professionals is accommodating a growing desire for personal and professional personalization within programs. Simply said, people want an experience that meets them where they are, as opposed to a generic experience staged for the masses. Surveys sent well in advance of assembling agendas, confirming speakers and selecting menus help ensure a greater ability to understand shared needs and desires across potential attendee populations so that meetings professionals can incorporate more opportunities for “mass personalization.”. And, with long-range planning cycles, a sound survey strategy ensures we are asking the right questions at the right time leading up to an event to affirm that what we thought was important six months ago is still the case today.
Leveraging survey capabilities via social media and mobile apps during a meeting allows us to check the pulse quickly at key points so we’re armed with better input and can pivot if necessary. And when constructed the right way and shared in the context of a debrief, the post-event survey provides valuable feedback for continuous improvement.
While surveys tend to be a tool that we roll out for the largest, most high-profile meetings, the size of your gathering shouldn’t dictate the need for surveys. In fact, some of our smaller, more intimate events are the ones that can benefit the most from input along the way as they often lend themselves to smaller enhancements that make a big difference.
Finally, meetings cost money, and the investment that organizations make in them are sometimes significant. Surveys help support that investment, demonstrate our focus on continuous improvement, and help our clients and partners feel more confident in committing to future meetings and events. While meetings professionals like us tend to move quickly from one task to the next, it’s important for us to remember to capture and communicate ROI, demonstrating our own value and reinforcing with stakeholders that the time and money that goes in to planning a meeting is worth it.
So, what makes for a high-quality survey?
For starters, be sure you are taking the time to revisit survey questions often. While you will want to retain a certain set of core questions to allow for comparison across similar events, certain questions should change based on the goals of the meeting, and how you and your stakeholders define success.
Helpful Tips for Quality Surveys:
- Survey participants often, before, during and after program operations.
- Keep surveys short and to the point asking direct questions to meeting attendees.
- Make sure you are asking the questions that you most need to know the answers to. If you don’t need to know, then don’t ask.
- Make use of technology, which is an easier and faster experience for your participants and also can help you quickly tabulate and analyze results.
- Meeting Planners can incorporate conference mobile apps as a way to take the pulse of meeting attendees throughout the program. This is also a great way to piggyback on your program’s social media campaign.
And finally, while surveys provide you and your stakeholders with critical information needed to improve and adjust your programs, it’s also super important that you remember to let participants know that you heard them. Share high-level results in post-event communications and show participants that you listened to their suggestions.
While many of us view surveys as a necessary post-event evil, I encourage you to think differently and more strategically about how we deploy them to plan more effective programs, respond to immediate feedback and demonstrate the value we provide as meetings professionals.
Assistant Vice President, Events and Hospitality
Lincoln Financial Group