Ideas to Get the Most Attendee Feedback

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"Each audience is different, so their [survey] preferences will be different," wrote Nate Duea of MedLearn Media, in response to a question on the SIPA Forum last week about best event surveying methods. "The goal should be to make the survey as easy to access as possible... Why not have both formats [paper and online]? See which one people use more and go from there."

Here are more of the Forum answers from last week, combined with past successful ideas:

Keep paper in the mix. "In my experience with Entrepreneurs' Organization and at my companies, paper surveys filled out at the end of each session... have always produced a higher percentage of completion and more thoughtful responses," wrote Kevin Briley of Ascend Math. "People can't remember one session from the next by the end of the event. This is particularly true for multi-day events with many presenters."

Tie it to credits. "[People] 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."

Tie it to presentations and handouts. "We send out a notice to all attendees immediately after the event, promising them the copies of the PPT presentations and other handouts once they've completed the survey," wrote Michael McLarney of Hardlines in Toronto. "Works pretty well."

Give a new method time. "We had a decline when we went to the online survey but we now get around 65%," wrote Lynn Freer of Spidell Publishing. "What we did notice is that the online survey generates more comments. The paper one, they checked boxes but didn't really provide information that is as usable."

Deliver a pep talk and an 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 Sept. 8." That reminds me of a local election we had in Virginia recently where it ended in a tie. Campaigners can definitely say every vote counts next time.

Try an event app. "We had a lot of success with deploying both types of surveys through the app ," wrote Duea. "We offered prizes at the closing reception to all that completed the survey which (I think) had more impact on the response rate than format of the survey. We also offered paper surveys at the door [for those] who did not want to download the app... but only about 3% of survey responses (400+ of 500 attendees) submitted the response via the paper survey."

Try an audience response system. " has a great web-based survey and audience response tool that easily integrates with any App," wrote Kevin Novak of 2040 Digital. "Our client, American Thoracic Society, used them this year for their annual conference and significantly increased the year-over-year response rate."

Use paper surveys but with a prize. "We have two annual events that each bring in over 1,000 attendees," wrote Frank Lessiter of Lessiter Media. "We do three daily paper surveys and usually get about 300 responses to each one. We draw for three free registrations to next year's event. These paper surveys are each 4 pages and probably have 50 questions each. Attendees are asked to rank each speaker, 7 general sessions, 15 classrooms and 24 roundtable sessions. Plus dozens of other questions on facilities, times, dates, trade show, sponsors, next year's topics, the event's 'wow' factor etc."

Give how long it will take, make a pre-event agreement, and acknowledge our inherent lethargy. The National Gallery of Art here in Washington had a late-night event a couple months ago where they asked—beforehand when I was buying my ticket—if I would fill out a survey afterwards. I must have said yes. "Thank you for agreeing to provide some feedback about your experience," they emailed after. "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."

Thanks to Ed Coburn of Cabot Wealth Network for starting the discussion.

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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…