If a conference is hosted in the woods and no one has a good time, did it even happen at all? Well, yes. It still happened. Maybe it wasn’t in the woods, maybe it was in a hotel ballroom. The heart of the matter is, it happened, no one enjoyed it, and unless the people planning that conference understand how the attendees felt, at some point it will stop happening. I don’t know about you, but we aren’t just sitting around planning meetings and conferences so we can use an allotted budget or check something off a list of to-dos. These events have strategic, revenue (or knowledge) driven goals behind them. In most cases, registration fees help pay for them to happen. If no one wants to come, or if you aren’t delivering what people want to see/hear/learn, then you are wasting money on behalf of your company and your attendees.
After the event wraps, hopefully you sit down with your planners and your team to discuss what worked and what didn’t. If you aren’t doing any kind of follow up meeting (I’m not twitching right now, I promise), that’s an entirely different post. For now, let’s just assume that all is right with the world and you are sitting with your team at that follow up meeting you always have. How are you measuring attendee reactions to the event you hosted? How are you measuring the success of your program or event? How do you know where there is room for improvement? Are you listening to attendee feedback? Are you reacting? The answers to those questions can mean future growth and success or a high probability of eventual failure.
So use what you have at your disposal. There are many ways to figure out what your attendees like, want and think. Here are a few of our favorites:
App-Solutely our favorite (and most versatile) method
Most events have attendees right at their fingertips, literally. Your event app is not only a scheduling, direction giving, information holding machine, it is also a way to get fast feedback without a huge inconvenience to the attendee. You can play around with what works best for you, depending on the feedback you are looking for. A virtual info desk link on the app home page can create an easy and open line of communication where your guests can ask questions and offer good and bad feedback. When a user signs up for a certain talk, upon completion a pop up can ask them to rate the speaker, content, or usefulness of the breakout before moving on to their next breakout. Maybe the user feed in your app is giving you a heads up. The best time to get feedback is as soon as you can, and attendees are more eager to provide feedback when you make it easy for them. Apps create a customizable feedback dream scenario and also an opportunity to fix something on the ground in real time.
Button Pushers Unite!
People love pressing buttons. We can talk about the metaphorical buttons later. Right now we want to focus on actual buttons, feedback buttons. You can put up stations throughout your conference near anything you want feedback on. A new tech lounge, a new speaker, a very old topic that might be too tired; all of this can be gauged with a feedback button. Button stations are a great way to collect feedback without taking up a lot of your attendees’ time. These buttons are anonymous so you are most likely going to get good, honest feedback. What you hopefully don’t get is a featured speaker who stays after the presentation so he can punch the positive button an extra 20 times. The flaw in this system is, there is no way to limit attendees to only one push.
New Technology: Where we’re going, we don’t need clickers
Hold onto your hats folks, things are about to get amazing. Enter Facial Recognition Software. This technology is new, expensive, and currently pretty impractical for almost all conventions and corporate events, but it is the future and that is exciting. Facial recognition software can be used to track attendees throughout the convention, event, conference, etc via facial scans. The scan then analyzes the expressions of the attendees to determine how they are feeling. Reports are made with these findings to determine the quality of the event. While this technology is insanely cool, it does have its drawbacks. Not everyone’s relaxed face is calm and enjoyable. Someone scanned as a bored face might not actually be bored. That might just be their face. There are some hurdles for this tech to jump as it makes its way into the mainstream market, but the technology is exciting, has multiple applications, and is worth keeping an eye on.
Low to no tech methods with minimal cost that still get the job done
Raise your hand if you can count. But really, put your hand back down. You are reading a blog post, not sitting in a classroom. The point: we can all count. If you can find someone who can count, you have an expert feedback gatherer on your hands. Here is an example: A conference is hosting multiple educational breakouts with expert speakers. One of the most reliable ways to get unbiased feedback is knowing how many attendees are in the room. You can do a simple count five minutes after a program starts, or (our recommendation) get even more detailed feedback by counting attendee numbers at the beginning, middle, and end of a program or breakout to see how many stayed or came in late. When your conference wraps you and your team will have hard data about where your attendees chose to spend their time. For most professionals attending conferences away from home, their time is valuable. It says a lot about what they are looking for in the content you are presenting.
And on a final low tech/budget friendly note, if you have registrants, then you have contact information. Create a simple survey to be emailed out immediately after the the conference comes to an end. Ask for further comments and the answer. With any luck, attendees will be reading it at the airport or as they catch up on emails. The smart phone: a gift from the feedback gods.
The meeting and event world is in a state of constant technical evolution. The future is presenting us with amazing tools that provide planners and businesses with more feedback than they have ever had. So are you reaching out? Are you listening? And when you hear what is being said, are you using attendee feedback to improve future attendee experiences? If a conference attendee falls in the woods, and no one is there to ask her how her fall could have been avoided, then future attendees will continue to fall until they decide to walk in another forest, with less obstacles. Gather feedback and use it. The result is less obstacles for attendees and more enjoyment for everyone involved.
Want help assessing your last event? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.