I Can't Get No …

The most common meeting evaluations focus on attendee satisfaction: how participants react to the speakers, the breaks, the entertainment, the registration process, the education, the connectivity, the food, the hotel, the transportation — just about anything that affects their experience. The criticisms might sting, but finding out what works — and what doesn't — for your audience is all part of the planning process. If possible, let attendees know what changes are made as a result of their feedback. They'll feel listened to and be more apt to respond to your surveys in the future.

Measuring Results

Evaluations can also focus on objectives, such as whether attendees have learned something, changed perspective, networked effectively, or met the company's goals in some other way. Meeting accountability, sometimes referred to as ROE, or Return on Event, is often most effectively measured by comparing pre- and post-meeting survey results. The online tool MeetingMetrics, rolled out this year by GuideStar Research, was designed with ROE measurement in mind.

Carrots Work

Many attendees fill out evaluations because they are conscientious meeting participants, but many don't. If your survey is long, if attendees haven't responded well in the past, or if you're looking for an especially high response rate, an incentive can help. Free registration at an upcoming conference is a great giveaway if attendees pay to attend your events. If not, a drawing for an iPhone, a limo ride to the airport, or a spa certificate is an easy way to improve your response rate.

Waste Not

Putting an evaluation form on every seat for every session creates a lot of work for planners and wastes a lot of paper. Consider a per-day evaluation form, or a single form for the entire meeting inserted in the conference binder. (Flag it with a sticky note, so attendees can find it quickly.)

Put It Online

Attendees are comfortable with paper forms, but electronic surveys tend to generate higher response rates and produce quicker results. Web surveys can be rolled into your e-marketing efforts and are flexible enough to ask open-ended questions. Hand-held audience-response systems provide instant feedback to survey questions, allowing organizers to adapt to the comments on the fly if necessary. And on-site polling kiosks can be set up to gather opinions and post them to a Web site for later review. Don't be put off by cost. Basic — but free — online polling can be set up through Web sites such as zoomerang.com and surveymonkey.com.

Don't Overdo It

Feedback is critical to your future meetings. To keep it coming, maintain attendees' good will by not over-surveying. Be smart; be concise; and make use of your findings.

Sources: National Business Research Institute Inc., www.nbrii.com; IES Meeting Services, www.iesmeeting.com/index.html; Meeting Professionals International, www.mpiweb.org; Merriam-Webster Online, www.m-w.com