Even after a wildly successful event, there are plenty of Monday-Morning Quarterbacks to point out areas where improvement is needed. It's wise to think about how you will collect, evaluate, apply, and sometimes even diffuse this post-conference feedback.
Here are 4 tips to set the stage for meaningful conference debrief discussions:
- Set Expectations Early: All too often, it's days and sometimes even weeks before the debrief memo goes out. Act early, before you go onsite, and send out a brief message to the team and other stakeholders, letting them know your big picture plans for collecting feedback. Get dates on the calendar and outline steps you will take in this debrief process. Encourage everyone to keep their eyes open while onsite and jot down observations and ideas as they come to mind.
- Schedule a Short Debrief Pow-Wow Immediately: For every hour that goes by after the big conference closes, a bit of insight floats away. Observations and experiences get fuzzy, compromising your ability to act on those pearls of wisdom. Gather the team onsite BEFORE you leave and first, thank them for their hard work and support. Then, ask each member to offer their thoughts about (1) What went well? (2) What could go better next time? and (3) What ideas did you jot down for future discussion? Wear your facilitator hat and don't comment on the merits of each item. Simply thank that person for their contribution. Have someone take notes on everything that was said, and let everyone know you will revisit these items in greater detail at a future debrief meeting.
- Survey, Survey, Survey: When attendees, staff, sponsors, partners, exhibitors, et al., check email after the end of the conference, there should be a survey link waiting for them. Some survey questions span all segments but be careful not to push out a "one-size-fits-all" piece. Craft questions very specific to the needs of each segment.
Deep Debrief Session: Depending on the depth of your event, you'll want to schedule at least 90 minutes, possibly more, for all parties to come together to evaluate the total event picture, including recaps of survey feedback by segment, financials, etc. Often, it takes 30 days to reconcile the details. Make sure you schedule this session for a time when you'll have the majority of data on hand for analysis and discussion. Send out materials at least a couple of days before this meeting, so everyone has a chance to read and reflect on all findings. You should emerge from this session with clear action steps for each participant, so you can incorporate best ideas in your next meeting planning cycle.