When debriefing, you’ll be evaluating event success by taking a look at three key essentials:

Stop, Keep, Start.

But before we dig into the actual debriefing, I want to address something that I see happening to a number of organisations. Far too many event planners, committees, and even CEOs approach the debrief as if it’s just “part of the process”.

Often this leads to everyone sitting around a table with huge amounts of data. 

Any (and all) possible information is pooled together, possibly discussed, and then packed away. Nothing truly helpful was gleaned, and the impact on future events will be tiny. In fact, a number of event planners have confessed that they don’t have a single piece of truly helpful information from previous events to inform decisions on the event they are planning right now!

How can we say that we are truly evaluating event success when we aren’t using information gleaned to make future events better?

Occasionally, I’ll run into event organisers with the opposite problem – their debrief session yielded little to no results because there was a complete lack of information. Maybe it was unclear what to evaluate, or which data mattered. At the end of the day, however, too much or too little data tend to have the same consequences:

Nothing about your next event improves.

Since many of us are planning annual events, we certainly want to build on each successive year to create better results (and better events). Right? 

If something fell flat, didn’t work, or wasted time and money – you need to be able to identify it and not repeat it. If something yielded results, was well received, and clearly improved the conference – you want to be able to use it again, and hopefully even improve it.

Ultimately, you want to provide a conference that attendees enjoy and value. This is what keeps them coming back year after year. If your debrief process isn’t helping you create a clear path towards a better event, we need to make adjustments so that you can elevate your wins and maximize your results.

So where should a proper debrief start?

Back at the beginning is a good place! When you first started planning for the event, you should have started with the end in mind. Your initial strategy sessions were all about setting clear objectives, creating goals, and clarifying the value your delegates would receive.

Now you’re ready to start evaluating event success. It may seem strange…but I’d like you to go back to your starting place.

Essentially, you’ll start with the end…and end with the start.

You’ll want to start a debriefing session with a review of your ultimate conference goals and objectives. From there, your session should be geared towards gathering data, information, and feedback that will reveal whether you achieved them or not.

Based on your specific objectives, you may find that delegates, stakeholders, sponsors, speakers, internal teams, or contractors may be your ideal sources of feedback. You may use them all – you may use none. 

You’re seeking the sources of information that will help you most clearly understand whether you achieved your event objectives.

Pro Tip: If there is an element of your event that you absolutely cannot change, don’t spend time asking questions about it.

For example, if you’re limited to using a specific catering company or venue, all you can do is make the best of what you have available. There’s no need to ask for detailed feedback on menu options or quality if you know that you can’t do anything about them anyway.  

You’ll know if you need to work with those suppliers to make tweaks and improvements for next time.

You might consider evaluating event success from two sides: external (front-end) and internal (back-end).

At the front-end, you’ll consider user experience during the event. At the back-end, you’ll consider the mechanics, processes, and communications that actually went into designing, building, and executing your event.

Within those two sides, direct your debrief questions towards three core groups of people:

  • Attendees (external/front end)
  • All staff/committee/event crew  (internal/back end)
  • Stakeholders (vendors, sponsors, and partners, who often have equal stake in both the front and back ends)

Now that you’ve established the two large categories that your debrief should consider when evaluating event success (front-end, back-end), as well as the populations that you’ll want feedback from, you can choose how to gather this information.

  • Will you design a survey for each group?
  • Will you meet face-to-face to discuss? (You’ll want to prepare questions in advance.)
  • Do you have another way to seek feedback as you evaluate your event?

If you elect to use a post-event survey, it’s essential that you send this immediately after the event has concluded. 

If you wait for days (or weeks), people will have moved on and forgotten information that could have been helpful. We recommend creating these surveys or questionnaires as soon as you’ve clearly established your event goals and objectives.

After all, you’ll want your questions to be specific enough so that you’ll receive helpful feedback that speaks to what you need to know when it’s time to start evaluating event success. When you’re literally creating surveys based on your stated objectives, you guarantee that they’ll work like a well-strategised plan (you’ll want to avoid the last minute, generic survey)!

Something else to consider: When it comes to getting a great response rate, how and when you ask your questions is often just as important as what you want to know.

Why not harness the power of technology by gathering feedback and thoughts from attendees in real time? With the growth of event apps, you can get immediate, raw feedback from the people actually at the event. This tends to be much more honest (and usable) than feedback that has been delayed and curated.

A word of caution, however. 

Don’t ask all the same questions in real time during the event, and then again afterwards. That’s annoying and makes people feel you didn’t bother to listen to them the first time! Take the extra effort to craft separate questions.

Once you’ve gathered the relevant feedback, you’ll want to gather your core group together. Essential team members who assisted in the organisation and implementation of the event should review the information together. 

As you review, you’ll be considering these three big questions:

  • What will we stop?
  • What will we keep?
  • What will we start?

Answering these questions will help you make informed decisions. This enables you to make your event better the next time around. You’ll find that you end the debrief with three sets of actionable data that will be easy to pass on (or implement) next year.

Pro Tip: You don’t have to wait ’till the event is over to be doing this.

Encourage your team to experience the event through the lens of stop/keep/start. This makes it more likely they’ll remember relevant (and helpful) details when you all come together. And just like with your delegate surveys – the sooner you’re able to discuss, the better!

End your event with the start in mind. Soon, you’ll find that your debriefing sessions become targeted, powerful tools for planning better events each and every time. 

There’s no better way to begin evaluating event success!

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