Are You Asking the Right Questions to Establish Your Event’s Value?

by MYB, on August 10, 2021

Every conference attendee is familiar with the post-event evaluation forms that ask them to assess a conference or a particular presentation. Those surveys can provide a valuable sketch of the overall impression surrounding an event. But those evaluations may not tell you a lot about why attendees came in the first place. And perhaps more importantly, they tell you nothing about the people who decided not to come.

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Too often, we find, associations aren’t asking the right questions of attendees and nonattendees alike about a conference, and not identifying the right opportunities for attendees to respond. Doing it right demands a survey strategy that’s designed to generate candid and actionable information.

Recently we worked with an association in the biomedical field whose annual conference was underperforming financially. The association had a sense that the conference wasn’t quite delivering value to attendees in the way it had promised. Attendees were reporting that they weren’t likely to recommend the conference to colleagues. But what was driving that perception?

To answer that question, we took a layered approach. We first conducted interviews with key stakeholders around the conference, gathering qualitative information about how it was perceived relative to other similar gatherings. (Words like “cliquish,” “crowded,” and “stuffy” came up.) We also conducted focus groups with association members, asking them how well the conference served them at their particular career stage, the quality of the presentations, and the networking opportunities. All revealed room for improvement.

The answers we received from those conversations informed the questions we asked in a quantitative survey we delivered to attendees and nonattendees of the most recent conference. If you decided to go, what were the main reasons? If you stayed home, why? We asked how satisfied attendees were with the conference, like the post event evaluation does. But we also asked:

  • How valuable did you find it?
  • How would you rate the value of the conference in relation to the cost of attending?
  • Is it your primary conference for medical education?
  • Are registration fees in line with other conferences you attend?
  • What learning formats do you prefer?

Questions like these, applied against demographic information gathered about attendees, can provide a goldmine of meaningful information about how well your conference is actually performing. The questions recognize that a conference rarely operates in isolation, but is in competition with other opportunities for professionals to spend on education. Through our comprehensive survey approaches, we were able to identify where attendees felt the conference fell short: quality of content, networking opportunities for potential collaborators, and variety of sessions were among the main pain points. Nearly a third of attendees for instance, reported that the conference had too little of the content they were looking for. Those findings helped inspire an action plan for a conference that’s now more valuable for the association and its attendees alike.

Segmentation of the survey responses also helped the association develop a strategy for different groups. With careful analysis of the data and attendee personas profiles, we showed how concerns played out differently for students and long-time professionals---and those who didn’t go. The survey revealed that many found the conference cost-prohibitive, and that “another meeting is more relevant to my work.” That sort of candor isn’t always stuff to smile about. But those answers can provide a roadmap to essential improvements that can make future meetings operate closer to attendees needs, and meet the financial targets you’ve set for them.


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Do you have a member survey planned?
Check out our free Survey Best Practices resource here.