Frank Conversations On Better Conference Measurement

Measurement by William A. Clark, on Flickr

Recently, I wrote about how most conference organizers are really bad at measurement.

Oh, we’re fairly good at measuring our conference goals.

As long as those goals are based on common conference inputs and outputs. You know, expenses/revenue, attendance, exhibitors and sponsors. But rarely do we measure anything else that proves ROI, ROO or ROA (return on attendance). And rarer still do we even know how to define and measure conference shatterpoints (vulnerabilities in our conference, leading indicators or KPIs).

Yet, the value of not measuring is much more expensive. Especially with lagging indicators such as a platuead or declining attendance, and decreases in sponsorship and/or exhibitor revenue. Since most of our events are once a year, once we uncover our weaknesses that occurred at that year’s conference, it may be too late. We need to know before the event occurs so we can make midcourse corrections.

Going Further Than Inputs/Outputs

Event Marketer Magazine recently published the 2014 Event Measurement Report which outlines why measurement matters. Four of the event’s leading measurement experts and partners share frank conversations about the importance of measurement. Their insights are valuable for conferences too.

These techno data geeks all agree that the quest to improve ROI requires three things:

1. A Metric Strategy

Rarely do conference hosts and organizers take the time to create a data strategy for quality improvement. We need to get better at a strategic and intentional embrace of metrics.

2. A Tactical Focus On Collecting, Monitoring And Activating Data

We need to create better processes for collecting and monitoring data to improve the conference experience for our customers. Then we have to interpret that data to create relevant knowledge. From the knowledge we can move to understanding and ultimately application of new tactics.

3. A Commitment To Improvement

The road to conference improvement requires a long-term philosophical dedication to continuous quality improvement. It’s not a one and done strategy. Nor does your own personal excel spreadsheet of expense/revenue, exhibitors, sponsors and registration data provide you with enough information for a better strategy. Ultimately, the stronger the metrics combined with a focus on interpretation, application and activation, the better the payout for you and your customers.

The Common Conference Measurement Mistakes

George Tan, Measuring Partner Brandscopic, and Dr. E. Craig Stacey Analytics Advisor and Brandscopic Director, site the three most common measurement mistakes they’ve encountered with their research.

1. No Commitment From The C-Suite To Measurement

Too often conference owners and organizers are worried about the expense and revenue side of their conference. While these are important, they rarely lead to continuous quality improvement.

Brandscopic surveyed more than 200 brand decision makers. They overwhelming selected better program reporting and analytics as an area to see addressed in 2014.

When was the last time you heard a CEO, President or Owner say that it was time to focus on improving the conference attendees’ experience?

When the C-Suite is supporting and vested in your quality improvement plan, implementation and improvement are more likely.

2. No Clear And Quantifiable Goals

Most of us use vanity metrics aimed at affirmation rather than proactive change says Michael Gilvar, Fish CEO.

The smile sheet conference education evaluation is a great example of a vanity metric. We also embrace fuzzy math like estimating the number of attendees in a general session.

Conference organizers need to work with education, networking and data professionals as well as experience designers to determine real conference success. We need better questions for our smile sheets that address quantitative metrics that lead to improvement. And most importantly, we need to quantifiably state real return on investment when our attendees apply what they learned back at their office.

3. Keeping Findings Too Close To The Vest

It’s time for conference organizers to be transparent about their findings with all of the conference stakeholders, including the C-suite, the Board of Directors, staff and attendees. Imagine answering which conference competitors are gaining ground on your event. This will surely get the attention of your senior leadership.

The Drive For Measurement

If you can’t show the relevancy of what you are measuring to your organization and your conference stakeholders, then you are collecting useless data.

A quality continuous improvement process starts with relevant and practical data. And that strategy starts with you!

What’s keeping you from creating and implementing a metric strategy for quality conference improvement? How can you survey and evaluate which conference competitors are gaining ground on you?

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