Whether they’ve attended a small meeting with less than 100 people or a large, complex conference with thousands, most participants will receive a post-meeting email survey from the meeting sponsor asking for feedback about their experience.
While every meeting is unique in terms of its objectives, attendees, agenda, and activities, from the perspective of measuring impacts and results, most event professionals can follow a similar recipe to create a survey that will generate accurate, useable feedback.
Step 1: List your meeting elements.
Begin with the event agenda. Build a list of the meeting elements you want to measure in sequence (i.e., Day 1, Day 2, Day 3), including all general sessions, important education or breakout sessions, key social events such as meals and award functions, offsite activities, and technologies (event mobile app, gamification strategies, and so on).
Step 2: Identify meeting objectives.
Using the list of meeting elements, identify one or more strategic objectives that each element was designed to accomplish. What should attendees have learned from the session? How should attendee perceptions and attitudes have been affected? Did attendees commit to accomplish something after the meeting? This process may require conversations with the meeting owner, key presenters, and activity designers.
Keep in mind that meetings don’t occur in a vacuum. Stakeholders are making sizeable investments to achieve specific tactical and strategic objectives for their people and their organization. The post-event survey is a key instrument for assessing the degree to which a meeting generated satisfactory returns for the C-suite and meeting owners (interested in business Impacts, return on investment, and positive post-meeting behaviors) and for participants (looking for an experience that satisfies their need for knowledge, motivation, networking, or other goals).
Step 3: Draft a list of survey question topics in note form.
Compile a first draft of the survey topics, making sure all the essential elements are touched on. Consider asking about:
• the meeting element’s usefulness or value to the attendee
• the attendee’s satisfaction with each meeting element
• whether each element achieved its objective.
About survey length: Though shorter surveys are generally more desirable, don’t sacrifice important questions that add value. Attendees will be more than happy to provide feedback on subjects they feel are relevant. Post-meeting surveys often exceed 30 questions and may contain 60 or more. For longer surveys, consider offering an incentive for participation, such as a summary of the survey results or entry in a sweepstakes.
Step 4: Outline the survey.
Begin the survey with a section of questions about the meeting overall. Next, ask specific questions about each meeting element in sequence. Finally, include a section with questions about the attendees’ after-meeting needs for support, tools, programs, policies, leadership initiatives and behaviors, organizational changes, and so on.
Step 5: Write the questions.
Tip: Write single-subject questions for each of your elements. In the section about the meeting overall, some basic attributes to be rated are attendees’ views of their knowledge and skill gains; content relevance, usefulness, and value of the event experience; degrees of satisfaction, engagement, and motivation; value of the networking opportunities; and, following the meeting, attendee behaviors which result in business impacts and new social connections and relationships. (Note: Use the same question scale within a survey section whenever possible for ease of completion; i.e., satisfaction, importance, value, interest, etc.) A sample of questions for the “meeting overall” can be found here.
Place open-ended questions related to specific meeting elements within the related sections following the multiple-choice questions. However, open-end questions about the meeting in general should go at the end of the survey. Always include these three questions:
• What was most satisfying about your meeting experience?
• What was least satisfying about your meeting experience?
• What recommendations do you have for improving future meetings of this kind?
Survey Preparations and Launch Timing
Ideally, begin preparing your post-event survey a month or more before the event so it can be completed and ready before your final two weeks of meeting preparation. Launch the survey within a week or two (at the latest) after the meeting. People forget details after two weeks and their motivation to participate will evaporate.
More information on specialized post-event survey measures and methods for return on event (ROE), return on objectives (ROO), and return on investment (ROI) can be found on Ira Kern’s IdeaXchange page on MeetingsNet.