Do Not Poke the Conference Feedback Bear Unless You Are Willing to Act

2014.03.13_Ever heard of a breathmint

There’s a local meeting I attend each year. What I value most about this event is the chance to reconnect with colleagues. Every now and then, I meet new and intriguing people, but it’s the “regulars” who keep me coming back. Sadly, that crew of regulars has been thinning out lately.

Then there’s the programming piece, which is where this meeting value proposition starts to unravel. Session topics of late have been weary and overplayed. Speakers have been mediocre at best.

Still, this meeting host manages to sign on sponsors. The opening session begins with sponsor acknowledgements, a parade of logos, and talks that start with “XYZ is the premier solution provider for…” That’s usually my cue to check email, at which point I discover this sponsor is now flooding my inbox.

And the biggest irritation of all?

The conference organizer keeps sending out surveys because they value my feedback. I provide it. Then we go back to our usual dance. Nothing changes. Sometimes my feedback is candid and specific. Other times, I stay silent. I know, I should be more persistent, but the dance never changes.

By the way, hallway conversations with friends reveal I’m not the only one frustrated with this futile exercise.

If You Poke the Feedback Bear…

Be smart about the questions you ask, listen intently, and be ready to do something with the feedback you collect.

Here are three quick tips to help improve your feedback capture:

1. Ask smart questions that are more about the attendee, less about you.

Most of the questions this particular conference organizer asks are about meetings logistics issues. Too few questions probe the attendee’s learning and networking experiences. What were you looking to get out of this experience? Did we deliver on our promise? How can we make it better? Make it more about them, less about you and you’ll be amazed at what you learn.

2. Ask more open-ended questions.

Looking back at this same conference organizer, 99% of their survey questions were multiple choice or radio button satisfaction ratings. At the end, there was one lonely fill-in box the size of a postage stamp marked “Additional Comments.” Where are the open-ended questions that get to the heart of what I’m looking to get out of this meeting? Questions like: What topics should we cover in the future? Who would you most like to meet? How can we help you get more out of this meeting? If we did an instant replay, what one thing would you change?

3. Attach a name to the survey with alternate ways to provide feedback.

Appoint a champion, an attendee advocate with a name and snazzy title who will own the customer (attendee) experience. Someone who welcomes calls, emails or texts from anyone who’s willing to offer suggestions. Share all contact info with your audience repeatedly. Include photos to make it more personal. Empower this champion to do something with what you collect. Communicate improvement steps to your audience: Here’s what you told us. Here’s what we did.

Some conference planners are best-in-class on the feedback collection and continuous improvement piece. Sadly, for every one that gets it right, many more get it wrong. As a result, more people are growing disenchanted with meetings. 

Poke the bear, ask smart questions, provide plenty of different ways for people to respond, and listen intently. Then get back in the lab, evaluate and filter what you’ve heard and start working on your next improvement cycle. You can get better, you can even mess up (at least you’re trying), but status quo is not an option.

What other roadblocks prevent us from tackling surveys more effectively? What ideas can you share to help us improve our survey approach and feedback capture?

Adapted from Donna’s Meeting Innovation post on Cvent’s Event Planning blog. ©2014.

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  1. […] There’s a local meeting I attend each year. What I value most about this event is the chance to reconnect with colleagues. Every now and then, I meet new and intriguing people, but it’s the “regulars” who keep me coming back.  […]

  2. I always found session evaluations extremely valuable. we did do 4 of the ranking questions on quality of the speakers, content, etc. but the open ended questions – most important lesson from the session; what concepts will you use when you get home and a “additional comments.” Generally there were themes and trends on what really hit home with the attendees. and additional comments often yielded good ideas for future session content “this was great, it would be better if…” or a really good follow up to this would be…”

    However, on overall conference evaluations I have trouble getting valuable feedback. nearly all are negative and it’s often hard to pick out the real issue trends.

    Are there examples out there of surveys or questionnaires that have yielded helpful feedback?

  3. […] Three quick tips to improve feedback capture.  […]

  4. Mary:
    Thanks for stopping by to comment and I agree, session evaluations are extremely valuable.

    Also agree that capturing candid & constructive feedback can be a challenge. Beyond the questionnaire itself, one tip we recommend is to have speakers stop five minutes before the end of their session to give attendees time to complete the survey. Attendees are often rushing off to the next session. That one step tends to yield higher response rates and a more accurate gauge of satisfaction levels… as well as helpful suggestions to guide continuous improvement.

  5. […] on chairs, post event email surveys, or open ended questions on social media. A post entitled “Do not poke the conference feedback bear if you are not willing to act” made us laugh and then got us thinking. How should we gather feedback to ensure we’re able to […]

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