Successful Ideas for Getting Attendee Feedback

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Apparently, everyone wants my opinion. Okay, it just seems that way because I get email surveys from almost every event I attend. My go-to has been to leave it on my front page so that when I have time I will get to it. Two weeks later an email reminder comes, allowing me to delete the old one and keep the new one prominent. I do eventually fill it out. Mostly.

Often being on the other side—we, too, want to know your opinion of our events—we realize the importance of getting audience feedback. As we look to populate SIPA 2018 sessions, we're certainly checking previous years to see what resonated most with our attendees. So we really appreciate—and put to good use—all the feedback we get.

The question, of course, is: What works best in getting that feedback? Let's take a look.

Attach to something important. "They have to feel like something is in it for them," said Nancy Berlin, program manager for Access Intelligence's Defense, ExchangeMonitor, and Healthcare, where she runs many events. "The best thing is if turning in an evaluation is tied to [the attendee] getting continuing education credits. When you're dealing with people with an underlying specialty like an engineer or lawyer, accreditation can be key.

Personalize to different groups. Berlin finds that the higher up the food chain you go—meaning people with bigger titles—the less likely it is that they will fill out an electronic form. So she might still use paper forms with that audience. She sees much better electronic participation with manager types. "The crux is that it has to be important to them for them to do it. SIPA had a great idea last year. For the annual conference, you put questions like, 'Would you like to be on the 2018 program committee? Would you like to present at next year's conference?' I said yes and here I am [on the SIPA Annual 2018 Program Committee]." Shows that we read it!

Remind people at the event. Berlin uses her time at the podium at events that she's running to issue reminders—whether electronic or paper. "Now's a good time to catch up on your evaluation," she might say. "Before you get that appetizer or drink in the exhibit hall." This can work at the end of a webinar as well.

Deliver a pep talk and others-have-done-it plea. The National Academy of Sciences just sent me a second request to fill out a survey. "We have received 300 responses so far, which is terrific! Please help us reach our goal of 500 responses. The survey will close on January 22." That's kind of like a local election we just had in Virginia where it ended in a tie. Campaigners can definitely say every vote counts next time.

Give how long it will take, say you agreed to do this, and acknowledge our inherent lethargy. The National Gallery of Art had a late-night event last Thursday. I must have said somewhere that I would help them—or maybe they just assume it. "Thank you for agreeing to provide some feedback about your experience. Your perspective is important to our understanding of what worked and what we can improve upon for future events. This survey should take about 10 minutes to complete... We'll send a reminder email a couple of days before the survey closes." The French Embassy wrote, " We have a short 2-minute survey for rating the films." A publisher I recently spoke to likes when articles have those estimated reading times as well.

Try new questions. Consultant Jeff Cufaude of Idea Architects believes that we "need to move from relying on attendee satisfaction scores and instead utilize a far more important metric: how well our meetings advance the purpose and profession for which they are designed..." He pointed to a conference where having participants engage in meaningful conversations with five new individuals was the desired outcome. Then attendees were asked how many such conversations they had. Two other possible questions: What's the idea you heard that you were most excited to take back to the office? What could we have done to make your conference experience better?

Create new communities. Perhaps a pre-con workshop you had was especially effective. Create a social group of those 10 or 20 people to keep the conversation going. Then at some point you can ask how the rest of the event was.

Offer financial incentive. CVS writes, "Here's your chance to win $1,000!" Travel companies will offer money off your next trip. "Once you have completed the survey, you will be entered into a monthly draw to win £500 of Exodus vouchers, so your next holiday might not be as far away as you thought!" writes Exodus Travels.

Every idea works on someone, Berlin added. The question is if it's worth the time to try everything.

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…