Start listening: How feedback drives conference success

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Take a moment to think through how your organization collects and implements feedback after conferences. Do you have a structured, thorough system that encourages attendees to leave actionable comments? Do you simply do your best to jot down what you hear from attendees during the event? Or, is your organization missing this step altogether?

Collecting constructive feedback from attendees gives your organization the keys it needs to unlock better conferences in the future. For example, you might learn which sessions, speakers, and topics attendees enjoyed the most and even inquire about logistical processes like ticketing. Of course, some feedback will reveal your conference’s weaknesses, allowing you to allocate resources to the right areas of improvement.

In this guide, we’ll explore strategies for collecting insights from attendees and making the most of their feedback. To get started, let’s walk through how and when to ask for feedback from conference attendees.

Collect comprehensive feedback regularly

The best feedback is specific and demonstrates a clear path forward. To get these responses from attendees, you’ll need to ask them the right questions.

Avoid asking questions that are too broad such as, “What did you think of the speakers at the conference?” as well as those that could be answered with a “yes” or “no.” Request that attendees elaborate on their responses (e.g., “Who were your favorite speakers, and what made their presentations engaging/interesting?”). 

Another critical part of collecting quality feedback is knowing when to ask for it. Here are some of the best times to send surveys to attendees:

  • Pre-event: While in the planning phase, you might consider sending out surveys to past attendees or, if you are part of an association, to your members. To align the conference with attendees’ expectations, prompt them to tell you what they’d like to see done differently at this conference, which topics they want to hear about, and which speakers they think should be featured.

  • During the event: Most conferences take place over several days, meaning that attendees could have very different experiences from day to day. Give attendees the chance to weigh in on their experiences at the end of each day so your organization has the chance to improve between the first and last days. Additionally, this can help you create more consistent conferences in the future.

  • Post-event: Follow up within a week of the conference ending to get a comprehensive understanding of how the event went. In this survey, you can ask about anything from conference promotion to the registration process to the perceived value of the conference.

  • Ad hoc or quarterly surveys: Occasionally, you may want to track long-term satisfaction trends and identify areas for sustained improvement. In this case, it can be helpful to release regular surveys that cover various aspects of your operations, including conferences. Note that these surveys are best for learning about attendees’ general satisfaction with the conferences rather than small details.

Without feedback that translates into concrete improvements, it can be hard for your organization to move forward. Strategically creating and timing your surveys ensures that you get useful feedback from attendees.

Find the actionable insights

While well-designed survey questions will earn your organization more helpful feedback on average, you’ll likely still receive some comments that you don’t know how to use. This is why it’s essential to understand the difference between actionable insights and those lacking actionable components:

  • Actionable insights: These are clear, specific comments or suggestions with obvious next steps, such as “I would enjoy more interactive sessions and workshops at the next conference.” If you receive this feedback, you know that you can improve attendee experiences by diversifying the format of conference sessions and prioritizing engagement.

  • Non-actionable insights: This type of feedback is typically more vague, making it difficult to identify a clear path forward. If you receive feedback that a participant thought the conference generally lacked excitement, for example, you might have to guess about what changes can be made to engage attendees. 

In general, your organization should allocate its time and resources to making changes that don’t involve any guesswork. However, if you see the same comment again and again (e.g., “The conference was not engaging”), consider creating a follow-up survey to dig deeper and uncover the next actions.

Focus on continuous improvement 

As you work to improve your conferences, it may be tempting to dial back your efforts once you overcome the initial, common points of feedback from attendees. However, your organization should keep striving to put participants’ suggestions into action no matter how far its conferences have advanced from the starting line.

Adopt these strategies to promote continuous improvement:

  • Cultivating a feedback culture. Communicate that constructive feedback is valued and acted upon. This will encourage survey respondents to leave their honest opinions with the assumption that your organization will genuinely consider them.
  • Creating a feedback implementation plan. To properly allocate your team’s resources, create a plan that lays out criteria for which feedback to implement, how you’ll determine which suggested topics or speakers make it to your conference agenda, and a guide to measuring progress.
  • Getting comfortable with experimentation. You may need to push the boundaries of what your organization is comfortable with to satisfy attendees’ expectations. Foster a culture that welcomes innovation, supports calculated risks to get your team out of its comfort zone, and doesn’t fear failure.

To keep your team motivated, remember to take the time to celebrate your wins along the journey to consistently improving your conferences. To identify these wins, be sure to set up a way to accurately measure the success of the changes you make

Measure the impact of changes

After devoting time and effort to improving an aspect of your conferences, you’ll want to know if that investment paid off. The only way to get a definitive ROI is to measure specific metrics before and after making changes. Make sure to keep any data you collect secure and organized within your organization’s CRM or management system so you can easily reference them at any time.

Some of the key metrics that reveal trends over time include:

  • Attendee satisfaction scores which show how satisfied attendees are with the conference on a numeric scale.
  • Marketing metrics such as email campaign open and click-through rates, social media engagement (e.g., likes, comments, shares), and conversion rates.
  • Speaker ratings which reveal satisfaction with individual speakers—you might improve this via speaker coaching.
  • Repeat attendance, or the percentage of attendees who return to subsequent conferences.
  • Revenue metrics such as total revenue, sponsorships earnings, and more that reflect financial trends.

Remember to adjust the metrics you study according to your organization’s current goals and needs. Keep older records on file so you can track long-term trends and compare them to industry benchmarks.

To sum up

While your conferences should bring benefits like increased revenue or membership to your organization, they should serve attendees first and foremost. Implementing their suggestions into future conferences not only creates more positive, engaging experiences but also shows that you greatly value their opinions and satisfaction.

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