Why Event Surveys Are Important for Proving ROI (And How to Actually Get Responses)

Take a strategy tip from VIBE Agency founder and CEO Valerie Bihet, who shares how to utilize event surveys to benefit both the planner and the bottom line.

Event Survey Strategy
Photo: Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Valerie Bihet is the founder and CEO of VIBE Agency, a Miami-based event production and management agency for live, virtual and hybrid experiences. 

Just like you would evaluate employees for their progress on an annual or semiannual review, you need to do the same for each of your events’ attendees—and be prepared if the feedback isn’t what you’d expect. Even if the feedback isn’t as positive as you hoped, it’ll be the gauge you use to improve on the next time.

Each event should be about making progress forward in your client’s business, and you need to know what areas could be improved directly from those who attend in order to make that progress. But this should go beyond the post-event recap internally or even with your client.

The Importance of Surveys
A survey is a good method for researching your audience. After all, if you really know their needs and what actually matters to them, rather than guessing those things, you make the most accurate assessment of their expectations so you can create a curated program that meets or, ideally, exceeds those expectations.

Plus, you’ll be able to better determine the true ROI of the event on the client’s business. For instance, it can be easy for a sales team to say, “We've seen an increase in sales by 20% in the last month because of our team’s efforts.” However, if you had an event the month prior and have survey data to show how your event affected attendees' perception of the brand or overall excitement toward it, that analysis demonstrates how the event contributed to that rise in sales. 

Events are so much about emotions and engagement. By putting effort into surveys, we have been able to track how an event for a sales team kickoff affected their attitude and excitement toward new products or the coming season and directly connected to the improvement in sales numbers. Without our data, we wouldn’t have been able to draw that connection to the bottom dollar and further provide evidence of why these events are important to the business.

When to Survey and What to Include
There are three main times I execute surveys for events:

  1. Before the event: Surveying during the preplanning stage can help guide you in the right direction for the content, venue decisions, etc.
  2. During the event: You can also use surveys to make sure attendees or consumers actually get the points you are trying to convey in your messaging. If attendees aren’t following, you can adjust (sometimes in real time when working with virtual events).
  3. After the event: The post-event survey is where you get the overall feedback after attendees have had time to come to their own conclusions about the event as a whole.

Organizers should use surveys to review every aspect of the event, from logistics and content to the future wishes of attendees. For example, ask them about their experience with registration and check-in. Did you communicate enough and clearly beforehand so it was easy for them, or did they feel lost? How do they feel about the event platform or the hotel/destination you chose?

In the pre-event or post-event survey, ask them questions that will help you with the planning process. What destinations or hotels do they want to go to? What content would they like to see at the next event? What would really push them to want to attend again and stay engaged?  This will help you plan a more engaging program that will give better results and overall experience at the end.

During (or after) the event, ask them about the content from the perspective of what was presented and how it was presented. Did they want to learn about something different than what you included? Did the speakers keep their attention or did they lose it at different points? If you are doing a digital event, you could also pose these content questions in the chat of a presentation or after a session, and depending on how long your event is, you could adjust your programming for the next sessions/day to accommodate their requests for content in real time. There is more agility with virtual programming in that way.

Before you can determine the ROI through surveys, though, which varies for each event, you need to clarify what your KPIs are in the beginning. Are you trying to judge the overall feelings people had toward the host brand, the number of meetings booked, downloads of content completed, the number of connections made or sales generated? There is no one important metric for ROI, but asking these questions upfront from your team will help you determine what your client’s ROI is for the event so you can try to hit that mark and measure it through surveys. 

Tips for Increasing Response Rates 
I recommend a mix of different methods of surveying. Sometimes sending out a SurveyMonkey with questions to answer (mixing multiple choice and open-ended) works. With virtual events, you can use a polling feature in the platform or simply ask attendees to “drop in the chat” their thoughts or comments on a particular question you pose to get feedback.

The key is to make it engaging for them. If you always try to survey them in the same way (like an email survey) they will get bored and not engage as much, so mixing it up with more interactive ways of getting feedback is important. Of course, however you gather the intel, be sure to document that feedback to reference later.

The results can truly make your planning easier in the future and ensure the event is more effective. Last spring, my company did a survey of attendees at a biannual sales meeting we planned for a client, and we asked them to choose a destination on where they wanted to go for the next event. We also asked what they wanted to do for fun during the conference, and we planned the team-building and after-hours events based on what we learned there. The result? Attendees remained more engaged at all levels of the programming because we planned based on what they said they would engage with. It’s really that simple and makes the case in itself why events are valuable to a business, particularly after such a long time of virtual and distanced engagement—and subsequent Zoom fatigue.

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