The Evaluation Imperative

By Heather Baldwin

You have just finished your annual regional sales meeting and are sitting down to give yourself a pat on the back. The event, you decide, was flawless. The rooms were perfectly sized, the food was spectacular and the 1970s-era disco band you found for the evening entertainment was hopping – all in all a highly successful event. You make a note to do the same thing again next year.

Big mistake, says Darcy Campion Devney, author of Organizing Special Events and Conferences (Pineapple Press, Inc., 1990). After all, if this sales manager had stopped to ask attendees for their feedback, he or she might have quite a different view of the event. The sales manager might have learned the rooms felt too cramped, the presenters were uninspiring, the chicken rubbery and the band a complete failure.

Feedback, says Devney, often is ignored or misunderstood, but it is critical when determining what worked, what didn’t work and what could be improved so next year’s event doesn’t fall victim to the same mistakes. And feedback isn’t something you think about at the end, she adds. “Plan your evaluation at the beginning of your event. Decide which statistics you care about and make sure your staff keeps accurate records,” she says. “The primary goal of your event is the main factor to evaluate.”

In other words, if your primary goal is to teach sales reps about a new product, you might want to create an event or exam that tests their knowledge, and prepare an evaluation form that asks about how well they felt they learned the material, what presentation methods were especially useful and what more might have been done to reinforce the information. If the goal is to give your top performers a break and a pat on the back, you’ll probably want to gather feedback about the recreation facilities and whether the schedule gave them enough time to enjoy those facilities.

Devney recommends gathering feedback at two times – during the event and afterwards. During the meeting, she says, spur-of-the-moment conversations can yield valuable information while it’s still fresh in participants’ minds. But she cautions that the attendees’ most recent experience – say, a really great or really awful speaker – can cloud their opinion of the entire event. That is why it is also important to get feedback from questionnaires and focus groups after the meeting, once everyone has had a chance to digest the whole event. Finally, make sure you incorporate the suggestions into future events, says Devney, or you’ll frustrate your meeting participants. Remember, she concludes, “The purpose of the evaluation is not only to see how you’ve done, but how you can improve for the future.”