But, let’s admit, it, not every single attendee is always completely happy. Sure, you strive for that, but it’s realistic to assume you will not please every single person every time.
So you read the evals (most are favorable) and file them.
Then, typically, you dust off those evals again when you are beginning to create new programming (about eight months out for an annual event), looking at what you did last year. You’ll look at the evals and your team’s notes, and start filling in the educational slots and networking opportunities.
But suddenly you notice something. When you looked at the evaluations the first time, most were positive. Sure, there were a few nay-sayers and a suggestion or two, but in general attendees seem to have really liked you and your event.
But did they really?
Evals only tell you part of the story. The truth is, most of the people who fill out the evals are your event’s advocates. The less-than-satisfied attendees, for the most part, won’t take the time to let you know you disappointed them. They simply don’t come back.
So what can you do to truly understand what your attendees think about your event?
Interviewing non-returning attendees over the phone is the best way to go. People are much more apt to give an honest opinion, if you make the effort to reach out to them and encourage critical feedback. You can also dig deeply into their opinions, in order to learn what you can do to change-up things from your current program. You’ll probably get some great new ideas out of the process, to boot. I know we have.
Here are some typical areas for discovery (Note: You’re looking for a critical mass of feedback, not just one or two odd-ball negative comments):
1. Did the attendees learn new stuff, or was the program content a rehash of the same-old, same-old? Lead your speakers to great presentations!
3. Location of the event—were the city and venue easy for attendees to get to? Are they places people actually want to go?
4. Time of year—what time of year works best for most of your attendees?
5. Networking opportunities—are there enough? Are they organized?
6. Interaction with sponsors and exhibitors—positive or negative? Here’s how to train your sponsors to work the show (and get great renewal rates!)
7. Cost to attend—was the pricing structure easy to understand? Does your price-point fit your audience? (Re-evaluate this every year.)
8. Was it fun? Studies show attendees learn more and retain more when your event is fun.
9. Overall, how well was the event organized?
10. Most important—what are your (your attendees’) ideas for making the event better?
You will be amazed at the great ideas unhappy attendees will often give you.
Not only will this exercise of contacting past attendees make your current event better, it may give you inspiration for new niche events.
I know we all love hearing all the praise. But you can learn SO much more from critical comments and suggestions. And you might even be able to turn those negative attendees into your biggest advocates!
Carl Landau is Grand Poobah of Super Niche Media Event. Opinions are his own. He can be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org.