February 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio February2000 Current Issue
February2000 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By Martha Jo Dendinger, CMP


Gathering data from one event can make planning the next one a breeze

Every meeting has some elements that work perfectly and others that could have been done differently or even eliminated altogether. Immediately after the event, the planning staff should have a postmortem, sharing their observations.

Such sessions are helpful, certainly, but they are not enough. Planners should take a more formal approach to evaluating a meeting’s strengths and weaknesses, and then use that data to improve upon future events.

Almost every aspect of a meeting can be scientifically measured. Evaluations reveal the satisfaction of attendees and can inspire future programming ideas. Among items that can be rated:

  • Relevance of the theme
  • Clarity of the meeting’s purpose
  • Total design
  • Related events
  • The meeting facility
  • Marketing elements
  • Attendee costs
  • Speakers/presenters
  • Transportation
  • Exhibition/displays
  • The registration process
  • Class materials
  • Entertainment
  • Receptions/breaks/food and beverage events
  • Guest programs
    Members of your own staff, your boss, suppliers and vendors also can provide insight. These important players can evaluate the meeting management and communications, and their suggestions can be used to improve future events.

    Questions that can be asked of staff and suppliers include the following.

  • Was required information provided?
  • Were communications timely?
  • What could have been done differently or better?
  • Also, survey them for comments they might have overheard from attendees.

    Yes, attendees like to give their opinions, and evaluations provide an opportunity for them to vent. Yet, most attendees feel deluged by surveys. Planners increase the odds of getting feedback by paying careful attention to the structure of the evaluation.

  • Keep it simple, short and direct. Ask only one item in each question. Choose words that everyone will interpret equally; for example, “The speaker was knowledgeable on the subject.”
  • Ask purposeful questions. Before writing the first question, ask yourself a few. What do you want to learn? How will you use the information? How will you evaluate the data? Without a clear purpose, the questions will be less likely to provide valuable results.
  • Mix up the questions. Open-ended and fill-in-the-blank questions tend to produce more suggestions but are difficult to compile. Multiple-choice questions, rankings and dichotomous questions (“did you like A or B better?”) are easier to compile and are good for developing statistics but do not let the respondent make suggestions. Including all types of questions results in a wealth of data.
    Low response rates and the time-consuming task of calculating results might convince some planners to skip the entire process. Before developing an evaluation tool, determine how the results will be tabulated. In addition to paper questionnaires, evaluations can be conducted via focus groups and telephone surveys, through electronic touchpads during the meeting, and in interviews during and after the meeting. The planner’s goals and budget will determine the best method.

    Generally, the more captive the audience, the higher the response rate. The response when using a touchpad could be near 100 percent. But more concrete information about the benefits of attending will be obtained after the meeting is over.

    Martha Jo Dendinger, CMP, is an independent meeting planner based in Atlanta.

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