WE HAVE ALL struggled with getting attendees to complete and return their evaluation forms. To have the most statistically valid results, it is always best to aim for the highest return rate possible. These evaluation results, when analyzed and used for future meetings and incentive programs, give you an edge over your competitors and allow you to stay at the top of your game.

Ways to increase return rates fall into six categories:

Evaluation Planning

Early on, communicate with meeting attendees and their supervisors about the importance of the evaluation process — and get their buy-in. Ask supervisors and/or senior executives to distribute evaluations, show support for the process, and encourage meeting attendees to complete the forms. Also, consider having an independent evaluation company conduct the evaluation study, as many attendees may be more willing to share their responses if they're sure they can do so anonymously.

Form Design

When designing evaluation forms, make sure questions are clear, brief, and easy to answer. Always do a pilot test on the questions with a handful of attendees and colleagues. If they find flaws, you can save time, money, and aggravation by clarifying your questions before they go out to the entire group.

Delivery

Since many meeting attendees are tech-savvy, allow them to provide evaluation data electronically through e-mail, their BlackBerry, or on-site cyber kiosks. Collecting data electronically also saves you time when processing the results.

Timing

Attendees who are given an evaluation and allowed time to complete it during a formal meeting session will likely do so. E-mailing a post-meeting questionnaire to attendees within one or two weeks of the meeting may also produce high response rates, since the meeting will still be fresh in the attendees' minds. Provide a deadline date for responding, and then send out e-mail reminders a couple of days before the deadline to those who have not completed it. If a post-meeting evaluation is sent weeks or months after the event, attendees may have forgotten some elements of the meeting.

Communications

When sending out questionnaires, clearly communicate the why, when, what, and who to the reader. Share the reasons for the evaluation, when attendees will be asked to complete the evaluations, what will be done with the results, and who will see and act on the results. Having a top company executive emphasize the importance of feedback during a formal meeting session or through a follow-up memo or e-mail can prove invaluable.

Incentives

Attendees can be encouraged to return their evaluations with an offer or chance of a gift for those who respond quickly. (Drawings for iPods have been quite successful lately.) Alternatively, enclose a giveaway, such as a pen or a Starbucks gift certificate, with the evaluation to encourage people to return it.

Keep in mind that in the world of ROI measurement, no response means the attendee received no value or benefits from the meeting. Thus, the more responses the better!

Monica Myhill, CMP, is president of Meeting Returns, a Littleton, Colo. — based organization that provides return-on-investment impact and evaluation studies for meetings and events. She has more than 12 years of experience in developing, marketing, managing, and evaluating education programs, conferences, and special events in North America and Europe. Contact her at monica@meetingreturns.com or at (303) 220-1920.