I’ve long claimed that the vast majority of post-event evaluations (this means yours) were little more than a performance review for meeting professionals, which, not surprisingly, everyone passes with flying colors.
If you look objectively at them you’ll see that the questions that are asked and the data that’s collected reveal very little about the attendee experience. They’re more a reflection of whether the meeting professional did their job or not.
The above average “satisfaction” ratings do not help you understand 1) whether attendees got any value out of the meeting or event, 2) whether they’ll be able to apply anything they learned back on the job, and 3) whether the key stakeholder of the meeting or event – the organization that writes your check – will see any improvement in individual or organizational performance.
I conducted some research a number of years ago for a large industry association. The objective of the research was to explain how meeting professionals determine the business value of their meetings and events. We had to shift the focus of our research once we determined that less than 1/10th of 1% of our sample (500+) could answer the question.
Think about that for a second. Of the 500+ organizations we contacted – large and small – big budget to small budget – only 1 could tell us with any certainty how their meeting or event impacted their business.
I couldn’t believe it either but the data was staring me right in the face.
So…we refocused our research efforts on understanding why this situation existed and highlighting the best practices of the few organizations out there who could explain how they determined the business value of their meetings and events.
What we found was that there are several reasons why meeting professionals cannot answer this basic question of business value. First, they claim ignorance that it’s even possible. This is despite the fact that many leading industry organizations have been talking about meeting metrics and measurement for decades. Clearly, we still have our work cut out for us when it comes to promoting best practices in meeting metrics and measurement.
Next, we found that those who know it was possible to measure the business impact of meetings and events thought it was too difficult and too time consuming – and therefore elected to not bother with it. This excuse has two parts. 1) Some of the more well-know solutions out there are comprehensive and were considered difficult to implement. Our research did our best to simplify these solutions. 2) We all know how busy we are as professionals but surely we can find the time to figure out a viable solution. This is a question of priorities and it’s obvious that as a profession, we still struggle finding more of a balance between our traditional focus on tactical issues vs. more strategic ones.
Finally, for those who understood its importance and found a viable solution, these individuals often found they lacked the analytical and interpretive skills and abilities to take the data they were collecting and turn it into actionable results. To be fair, our profession is not known for our love of analytics. Only now are we beginning to realize the potential this discipline has to offer, despite the fact that it’s been around for decades. (I was heavily involved in the field of analytics back in the 1990’s). Despite the fact that we are data rich (tons of data generated through registration systems, devices, platforms, evaluations, etc.), we are still relatively information poor. I’ll never forget the time a COO for a large organization showed me over 3,000 pages of responses to a post-event survey and asked in desperation, “What does it all mean?”
So what can you do to improve your post-event evaluation? More specifically, what can you do to answer the question, “What’s the business impact of your meeting or event?”
Goals and objectives
Without business goals and meeting objectives, you will never be able to determine whether your meeting or event was a success or not. No way. No how. We know that most meeting professionals are order takers. They don’t often ask the “Why” question (why are we meeting) or the “What” question (what do you want to accomplish). We’re much more comfortable asking the “Who”, “When”, and “Where” questions. Goals and objectives translate into metrics and measures and are key to determining value – however you define it. These should be captured in your post-event evaluation.
Start collecting data
You may not be aware of it but we are literally drowning in data. Even the smallest of meetings and events are generating enormous volumes of data. The challenge is getting your hands on it. It may not be readily accessible. It may be trapped in some process or application or routed to another department. It’s incumbent upon you to figure out what kind of data your meeting or event is generating and gather it under your control. Look at the questions your currently asking on your post-event surveys and ask yourself whether this is helping you improve the performance of your meeting or event. Chances are, it’s not.
Collect the right data
Once you know your goals and objectives (and therefore metrics and measures that matter) and what data you’re collecting, you can determine whether you’re collecting the right data. Hopefully you are. If not, figure out what’s missing and add that to your mix. This is often a game of trial and error. If the data you’re collecting isn’t providing you with any additional insight, exchange it for something else. Those who have robust metric and measurement systems in place have developed those systems over time and through several iterations. Be patient. You will be rewarded. And just to be clear, anything (and I mean “anything”) can be measured.
Properly analyze and interpret
These competencies (analysis and interpretation) are in short supply. If your organization doesn’t have them or committed to developing them, you can outsource this. I have an analytics team that runs all the right statistics, discovers the important patterns in the data, and helps organizations make more data-based decisions and often leaves it to them to implement. This is a viable outsourced solution for many organizations.
The best post-event evaluation
Because this is such a challenge for organizations, I try to do my part by giving my evaluation away for free. This evaluation focuses on the most important reason people attend meetings and events: the formal and informal learning opportunities they present; and help you answer the critical business impact question. You can add other metrics and measures to this for a more complete post-event evaluation. Those metrics and measures will vary somewhat from organization to organization and meeting to meeting or event to event.
So, just because you’re doing a post-event evaluation doesn’t mean you know what’s going on in terms or learning outcomes or the business value of your meeting or event. That takes a system designed for that purpose and more thought than most organizations have given to date. Hopefully, now you’ve got a better idea of where to start.
One more thing…
For those of you who are still wondering why this is so important, during the last economic downturn in 2007-2008, a lot of organizations were not prepared to answer the question about their meeting or events business value. As a result, hundreds if not thousands of meetings and events were cancelled or eliminated. Thousands more had their budgets slashed. People you know lost their jobs. You may have lost you job. While there are no guarantees in life, one industry veteran once told me that, “If we’d been collecting and sharing the data that mattered to our stakeholders, much of this (industry shrinkage) would have never happened.” The next recession is just around the corner (historically, they occur every 10 years on average). Your destiny is in your own hands.
If you are interested in receiving a free post-event evaluation form that will provide you with more actionable data designed to improve your meeting or event performance, email me at email@example.com.