How to Successfully Debrief Your Event

An event planner’s work is never done – not even when the event itself is over. Just as important as getting all the details right before your event, there is something you can do after your event to get valuable feedback, streamline your process, enhance your attendee experience, and further cement relationships with your team and partners.

What is this magical task that event planners can undertake to reap the aforementioned benefits? Nothing more than a simple event debrief.

Why Is “Debriefing” Important?

Picture this scenario: You’ve just concluded the first of several annual conferences for a prestigious client. The turnout was good, there were no major hiccoughs in the plans – the talent arrived on time, the volunteers were mostly on point, and no one had an allergic reaction to the food. All in all, you feel pretty good about the event. Are you done? How can you be sure that everyone involved in the event experience feels the same way that you do? How are you going to make sure that next year’s event runs at least as well, without becoming monotonous? How do you know what attendees are looking for and what your partners want to see next?

Enter the event debrief.

Debriefing an event simply means asking a series of targeted questions about the event itself.
This is important because taking the time to analyze the event you just produced has several benefits, the largest of which is a firm and tangible grasp on what happened, and how you can build upon that experience in the future.

Honest and accurate feedback allows for you as the planner to make better business decisions about each event you put together. A debrief produces a concrete list of what worked, what didn’t, and what relevant people (your attendees, sponsors, vendors, etc.) want to see at your next event. Debriefs are the prelude to event innovation.

How to Successfully Debrief Your Event

How Do You Debrief?

The success of your debrief relies entirely on your understanding of who exactly you are questioning, and what you hope the answers will lead you to. There are actually two different kinds of event debriefs, aimed at two different groups of people. I call the two types the back end debrief and the front end debrief.

Debriefing the back end of your event requires that you analyze how effective the physical planning of the event was. These questions are aimed at your team and your vendors, and will primarily focus on productivity, ease of task implementation, and the flow of information. A front end debrief analyzes attendee experience and engagement. These are questions you will pose directly to your target audience, and they will deal primarily with content and activity satisfaction, customer service, and user experience.

There are several methods that can be used to debrief your event, and the method you chose should be based on which kind of debrief you are attempting. Back end debriefs can often be handled with a short, (no longer than a half hour) meeting, where you and your team discuss the goals of the event, if they were met, and how each person on your team felt about their ability and proficiency to complete their assigned tasks. Front end debriefs can take the form of a live Q+A session at the event, short surveys that are integrated with an event app that ask for feedback after each session, a longer survey sent out post event, an email or social media campaign asking for feedback in an inventive way, or even in a little research, where you see what attendees are saying about their experience at your event on various online channels.

Equally as important as knowing who you are talking to, is the timing of your debrief. It is important to ask for feedback as soon after the event as is physically possible. There are some planners who set up their debriefing process in stages, the first of which can take place even before you dismiss everyone from the venue.

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What Questions Should You ask?

The Back End Debrief– We’ve already established that the primary focus of a back end debrief is to iron out how well the event was planned and executed. In order to discern this, consider asking your team, sponsors, and vendors some of the following questions:

1. What were our original event objectives?
2. Did we meet them?
3. Were there any problems encountered as we tried to meet our event objectives? (think registration or tech issues, budgetary constraints, revenue goals, marketing performance, food & beverage issues, and general attendee engagement) If so, what were they?
4. Did those problems get solved? How? Was the provided solution effective?
5. Was your individual role in the event production process clear to you from the outset?
6. Did you find that the information you needed to do your job was readily available to you?
7. What were some triumphs at our event? Who or what was responsible for them? How can we replicate that success in the future?
8. How effective and efficient was our registration process?
9. How did we utilize technology at this event? Was the tech we used easy to implement and analyze?
10. What would you like to see happen at similar events in the future?

The Front End Debrief – A front end debrief is entirely about attendee experience and engagement. Basically, you want to know if your attendees had fun or walked away with something valuable, how they received your event messaging, and how you can make their experience better in the future. In today’s hyper digital world, there are many innovative ways to tackle your front end debrief. The traditional feedback form, is extremely outdated. And though the information you’re trying to obtain is the same, technology has made getting it much easier (and sexier) than filling out a mail-in questionnaire. Feedback from your attendees can be gotten:

1. Through Social Media – You’d be surprised how many responses you will get by simply asking your pointed debrief questions on social media after an event. Consider posting a facebook status, or throwing some of the questions into a dedicated twitter chat after your event.

2. Through Email – Similar to social media, you can (and should) reach out to your attendees via email to find out how they felt about your event.

3. Via Focus Groups – Focus groups are an excellent way to get attendee feedback. You can keep your focus group general (and simply ask questions about registration, as opposed to asking about feedback regarding the registration process for a specific event) or, you could ask your attendees prior to your event to agree to be in your focus group. This way you can ask targeted questions about the event you just produced.
4. Through a Mobile Application – One of the reasons your event app is so important is because of all the ways you can utilize it. In addition to being a committed back channel for networking and helping deliver relevant information to attendees, your event app has the ability to provide you with a platform to deliver your front end debrief to attendees.

5. Polls – Attendees will have the most to say, and be the most likely to give you feedback, immediately after they’ve interacted with your event. This is why on the spot polling is a great way to have your front end debrief. There is no end to the information you can get from an on the spot poll. You could poll your audience after each speaker or presenter. You could have them rate their food and the service immediately after a meal. You could ask about the music, the entertainment, and the flow and decor of your space. The possibilities are endless.

In Conclusion

Debriefing your event is a crucial step in gathering the feedback necessary to keep your events innovative and efficient. Conducting both a back end and a front end debrief will ensure that you know exactly how everyone involved feels about the event you produced. You will also have a working knowledge of what worked, what didn’t, and how you can build on that information to keep yourself, your clients, your partners and your attendees happy and coming back for more.

About The Author
Bethany Smith
Bethany Smith specializes in using storytelling to create unique event experiences for her clients. In addition, she runs a blog called The Planner’s Process which aims to help aspiring #eventprofs amass the tools they need.
Julius Solaris
Editor, Julius Solaris

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