Surveys for Meeting and Conferences

Tight budgets are forcing many organizations to take a close look at the meetings and conferences they sponsor. While these events can be highly productive and worthwhile, they can also be expensive. Online surveys can help you plan and evaluate meetings and conferences so that you can make the most of the time and resources you put into these events.

Before, During, and After
If you have enough lead time, you can do a pre-meeting survey to help plan the event. For example, you might ask people what kinds of speakers they would like to hear, or what kinds of demonstrations they would like to see. If you are planning a trade show, you could ask what kinds of products and exhibitors people might be interested in. A pre-meeting survey can also give you an idea of how much time to devote to different topics.

If you have the resources available, you could conduct an online survey during the event itself by setting up kiosks in the exhibit area. The main value of this approach is that it gives you an immediate idea of how people are responding to the event, while the experience is still fresh in their minds. Completing a survey also gives people a break between attending presentations or visiting exhibitors.

Most surveys are conducted after an event. In general, the sooner you do the survey the better. People are more likely respond to a survey immediately after an event, and their responses are more likely to provide useful information. The farther away you get from an event, the more responses will be affected by the filter of memory.

The main purpose of conducting a survey after an event is to do a better job of planning similar events in the future. A survey can tell you which speakers people liked or disliked, which exhibitors they found most relevant, and which meals or social occasions they enjoyed the most. A survey can also give you useful information about the event itself — for example, what people thought about the venue, the registration process, and the schedule.

What to Ask
Unless you already have a good idea of who is attending your event, you will probably want to ask a few questions to create a profile of attendees. For example, you might ask, “Which industry does your company operate in?” or “What was your main reason for attending this conference?”

You will also probably want to ask about the event itself. For example:
• How would you rate the conference facility?
• How would you rate the ease of registration?
• How would you rate the conference publications?

As we have already seen, it is common to ask about the speakers, the program, and the exhibitors. This information is less important as an evaluation of the present conference than as a tool for planning other conferences in the future.

As with any survey, there is no point in asking a question about something that you would never consider changing. For example, if you are committed to holding future meetings at the same site, there is no reason to ask people to suggest a different one.

By the same token, you should try to make people feel that you are actually listening to their responses to your survey. For example, if the great majority of people found one of the speakers boring and uninformative, it would probably be a mistake to invite that person to speak at your next conference.

If you ask the right questions and you pay attention to the responses, surveys can help you plan events that almost everyone — including you — will consider worthwhile.


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