The best way to know what your audience needs
is to ask. Survey them before an event to shape the agenda and make
critical changes; survey them afterward to make sure you achieved
Employee satisfaction surveys, customer interviews, focus
groups, post-event questionnaires and web-based solutions are all
part of the wide array of tools available. The method you choose
should be based on objectives that are clearly defined before the
meeting ever takes place.
What often is missing, however, is a clear-cut plan for what to
do with the results once they are gathered. This is powerful
information with which an organization can create effective
communication strategies and tactics for multiple audiences.
The following scenarios give some ideas on the many ways research
can inform communications quandaries.
Refining the message. A national
transportation firm was doing extensive internal restructuring and
decided to hold a first-ever national meeting for executives and
managers. Beforehand, executives were asked about the top
challenges and issues facing the company, and a web-based survey
sent to potential attendees asked about their goals, challenges and
perceptions about recent changes.
The results were used as a strategic planning tool for top
executives and speakers attending the conference. It helped them
prepare to field the audience’s questions and shaped their key
messages. In this case, while real-world constraints forced them to
operate pragmatically, the results were used to create an event
that was targeted, meaningful and a resounding success, according
to the post-event data gathered.
Creating the agenda. A Fortune 500 company
that prided itself on having strong communications with employees
was holding its annual managers meeting to motivate and educate
them. The executive team determined they needed to understand the
expectations of the employees before creating the agenda. Through
phone, online and face-to-face surveys, the employees said they
generally were content with the company and its leadership. But
they complained that executives were “overcommunicating” with them,
requesting compliance on multiple initiatives that prevented them
from doing their jobs effectively.
Essentially, corporate leadership had failed to communicate
with each other before sending out new information, resulting in
simultaneous projects and an overwhelming amount of e-mail.
This finding motivated the executives to make considerable
changes, using the information to build content for their
In post-event research, employee confidence and satisfaction
rose significantly, as they felt they had been heard and were
already witnessing changes at the top. Leadership began discussing
new initiatives internally before asking for employee
Deciding to cancel. A Fortune 1000 company
planning a 2,000-person annual leadership conference sent out a
preconference questionnaire designed to shape the content of the
event. The results revealed many key, unresolved issues, and the
executives realized they needed to address these before executing a
large leadership conference. They made the decision to cancel their
annual event altogether, resulting in hard-cost savings of $1.5
million for the company.
More importantly, they incurred soft savings in terms of
employees’ time and loss of productivity due to negative
perceptions and misinformation. In this case, research helped the
company understand that the most effective conclusion was to shift
the timing of their communications.