Effectively debriefing your event is vital to dissect the good, the bad and the ugly of your most recent event and ensure you continuously improve for future projects. Here are some top tips for a constructive debrief, as well as a downloadable debrief template.
If you’ve ever participated in a job interview, you know some of the most common questions asked are questions on strengths and weaknesses as well as working preferences. Some interviewers have now embraced the question, “Tell me about a time when…” One of the ways you answer these tried and true questions is by having a firm grasp of who you are, what you like, and what situations you work well in. By giving the employer this knowledge, they are able to assess whether you are a good fit for the task at hand and the culture of the team.
The same is true of event endings. If you don’t take the time to assess what went well, what brought you challenges, whether you met your goals, and how you can improve next year (or next time), you’re missing out on a valuable opportunity for yourself professionally, your team and your future clients.
The easiest way to conduct an event debriefing is by having a good skeleton framework with which to begin the discussion. If you handled the entire event alone you can have this conversation in your head but if you worked with others, if vendors or session leaders were involved, if anyone else who was in attendance had an opinion different from yours, you need to conduct a debriefing. This event debrief template could be a useful starting point for you.
What Makes Up an Effective Debriefing?
The debrief addressed here is for your event team and your vendors. It’s also wise to get feedback from attendees. Since most event planners do that already through paper surveys, online surveys, and apps, we won’t address them here. If you need more information on how to do that, read this article about debriefs.
Ask the Right Questions
First, your template will contain a series of questions that will guide the reflection and draw out feedback that people may have otherwise forgotten. In order to do this, you need to ask the types of questions that will elicit feedback that is more helpful than “yes” or “no.” Your debriefing template will serve as a way to get the conversation moving at your debrief meeting but it should also work as a stand-alone document because some people (like your vendors) may not be physically available for your meeting. Whenever possible host this meeting close to the event. It will help greatly if everything is fresh in one’s memory and details soon start to slip.
Parts of the Debrief Template
Name and Role
You can decide to make your template anonymous but, if you do at the very least you’d like to know the role the person played. In some cases knowing this can lead you to the direct knowledge of who filled out the template so you’re probably better off just having a name on there anyway. However, there are some people who have a greater ability to be honest if they feel protected by anonymity, even if it’s only the perceived kind.
Divide and Conquer
Organize your template by areas. This could include food and beverage, registration, use of technology, entertainment, learning sessions, etc. Any area that fed directly into your event objectives should be listed.
State the Objectives
At the top of each area list the objectives of that area with any measurable markers of success. Then ask respondents to indicate whether they feel the objectives were met and how or what contributed to that happening. Don’t feel the need to give every team member every area. Your vendors, for instance, should only have areas that directly affect them like exhibition attendance.
Encourage them to share details of people or things that were crucial to the success of meeting those objectives. If they were not met, why not? Again, share the challenges and specifics behind them. If these are uncertain such as what caused the challenge, hypotheses should be made as they may be tested next time.
List the Tactics
If you had specific tactics of how you were going to meet your objectives, identify them next in statement form and have people check off whether they were completed.
Review the Highlights
This helps everyone focus on the positive before moving along to constructive criticism. Let people call out a few stars of the event and allow those team members to bask in the appreciation. While you're blowing some sunshine around ask if there is room for improvement. If so, how? If not, why? For instance, you may be at near 100% attendance with your members and improving attendance could only be done through improving member recruitment.
What Areas Can Be Improved Next Year?
Make sure you incorporate specific and general areas of improvement. For instance, “the food could have more variety” and “We need a different caterer to satisfy our audience.” It’s okay in the highlights and improvement reviews to voice opinions. Don’t look for statistical proof that you need a new caterer.
Ask the team members if they felt like expectations were clearly conveyed before, during, and after the event. Why or why not?
What Did We Hear?
Word of mouth is extremely important to an event’s success. Leave room to discuss what your team “overheard.” Make sure your social media person is involved in this part of the discussion.
Present Audience Feedback
If you’ve had time to collect audience feedback, break it up into the same areas you have on your template and present the highlights. Enjoy the positive and use it to brainstorm ways to become even better next time. Then read what the audience viewed as areas for improvement. Take some time to talk amongst your team on how you could improve the attendee’s experience in that area at the next event.
Make sure you also take the time to assess the use of technology in your event. This area if changing so rapidly that every event needs to assess how it used event technology and how it could improve its use. Did it work correctly and help you accomplish your event goals? Was it easily adopted? If not, could you have facilitated that process better or was the user experience lacking?
At no point should an event planner feel that they don't need to review an event. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been in business or how many times they’ve hosted an event like it. In today’s world where personalization is becoming more and more important, you should never lump all events into one category. Each deserves its own debrief. Believing they are all the same is the kind of thinking that will eventually render you extinct in this industry.