MANY OF US see attendee surveys as an item to check on the “to do” list to keep the Accreditation Council for CME happy, and thus maintain our accreditation status. What we may not realize is that attendee surveys are potentially a powerful source of information for our marketing efforts as well.

Surveys are wonderful tools to help us determine whether attendees had a meaningful educational experience in our workshop, conference, or symposium. And what about future activities? Properly crafted, surveys can point us in the right direction for success down the road.

Getting to Know You

Start by taking the opportunity to get to know your participants better. Ask which publications they read, what sorts of educational events they attend, their specialty, and other questions to help you get a demographic snapshot. From a marketing perspective, this information is vital in designing your plans to communicate future events to your target audience. Not only will you understand which topics your participants prefer, you will learn which publications would be best suited for your advertising campaigns and which other conferences would be likely partners for a marketing exchange program.

Use your survey to find out which other workshops your participants attended, both during your conference and at other events. Try to extract a trend to see what sort of general topics most interest your participants. By comparing individual workshops to your overall event and to other events your participants have attended in the past six months or year, you can determine what your participants find most valuable. This will provide you with a great base of topics to offer in the future.

Your Market Research Volunteers

How many of us wish we could get inside the minds of our participants? Market research is an excellent way to gain insight into our target audience, and your conference survey can be a good place to begin. One great way to develop a network of volunteers for marketing focus groups, online surveys, and phone interviews is by asking, right there on your survey. Simply include this question: “Would you like to participate in future focus groups, online activities, or phone interviews to help develop quality educational materials and outreach programs in the future? If so, please include your name and contact information here_________.”

Let your participants know that honoraria or gifts will be provided for those who offer their time. This is an inexpensive way to generate a pool of prequalified participants who are particularly interested in your events for your market research activities.

Of course, you need to take advantage of your volunteers. By conducting regular market research activities, you will keep your finger on the pulse of your industry. Are new educational tools emerging that participants wish you would include? How do attendees really feel about the presentation style, pace of workshops, or materials you are designing to supplement your courses? Find out if you are off-base with your marketing programs before they alienate potential attendees. By tapping into your pool of volunteers as you develop your program, you greatly increase your likelihood of a slam-dunk approval rating after the big event. Another great side effect of creating a volunteer pool for market research is the public relations “halo” effect of reaching out and including participants in your inner circle. They will more readily believe that you have their best interests at heart simply by the fact that you bothered to ask.

Market research doesn't have to be expensive or intimidating. Start with a simple tool you already use — the post-conference survey — and you're well on your way to making your future conferences, your marketing programs, and your educational style the best they can be.

Jennifer Goodwin is president of The Goodwin Group, a global medical communications consulting agency in Arlington, Mass. You can contact her at