Do your events measure up? Expert facilitator and audience interaction tech guru Chris Elmitt on the latest ways of finding out
At the most recent PR Week internal comms shindig, there was a lot of talk about the measurable value of video. Because it’s now so easy to track views, comments and likes when a video gets published on the intranet, it’s an attractive channel for those under pressure (rightly so) to demonstrate the impact of their comms tactics.
Yet most of us instinctively know that face-to-face events are a more powerful intervention. What if we could find ways to more reliably measure the impact of events? Surely this would help us restore face-to-face in its true place as the channel of choice.
The measurement conundrum in conferences and events
In conferences and events, measurement has always been a challenge. We want to know the answers to key questions like: “Did you buy in to the change programme because you attended our event?” “Are you more productive in your work because you fully engaged with the content at our conference?” But getting reliable answers isn’t easy.
Usually, we turn to the trusty ‘happy sheet’ that participants hastily complete as the CEO is exiting stage left. But most people are already racing for the carpark, or maybe a drink at the bar, and the quality of their feedback is often depressingly low. “The sandwiches were too warm and the room was too cold” – that sort of thing.
Or you go for feedback after the event once the glow has subsided and people can translate what they got from the event into the day job. Here’s an opportunity to get more reliable responses. Trouble is, it’s the very pressures of that day job that mean it’s hard enough for people to keep the messages front of mind, let alone take time to respond to a request to feedback and give us a considered view of the difference the event has made to their knowledge and thinking as well as their ability to put it all into action.
All in all, it’s often painstaking work to gather what ends up being pretty patchy feedback that doesn’t tell us nearly enough about the value of the event we’ve just invested in.
Insights from bespoke apps
Thankfully, recent advances in event technology promise something better. We can now get a clear picture of how impactful an event has been without having to rely on attendees’ compliance with those old-school feedback processes.
For over 15 years, Axiom and Crystal Interactive has worked together to deploy interactive technology in events. These days, we frequently use bespoke apps and activities on iPads to glean insights from delegates. And while participants are working through highly interactive exercises and connecting with the content through our technology, we can capture, live in the room, all kinds of valuable data:
- What delegates are thinking (positive and negative thoughts).
- How they feel (confused, confident, aligned, enthusiastic, inspired, motivated etc.)
- Their ideas and questions.
- What they now know (via quizzes and surveys to assess how much of the information they have retained).
One technique much favoured by Axiom facilitators is to use the tech to make quick (and anonymous) measurements at the start and end of an event along two dimensions:
- The extent to which participants understand the strategy for their organization.
- How confident they are that they can deliver it.
Results from the poll at the start of the event, available in real time so we can respond to what we’re dealing with, invariably show that participants are very confident – they just aren’t sure what about! The equivalent poll at the end of the event shows how much we’ve been able to move the understanding and confidence needles during the day. (See examples).
Importantly, the results are made visible to all participants there and then. This helps reinforce the importance of the post-event cascade. We challenge delegates to help their teams, who aren’t at the event but are the ones who actually deliver the strategy, make the same jump in understanding and confidence that they’ve been able to take.
And we’ve recently developed new ways of tracking all sorts of other measures, too: how much event content participants digest before, during and afterwards; how many people they meet and network with; and how actively they participate – very similar to data from views, comments and likes on videos.
We’ve even started benchmarking events against these measures, building an index that is helping us develop a reliable guide to what good looks like in terms of how a fully engaged audience behaves. What we’re learning is fascinating.
And all of this without a dog-eared happy sheet anywhere to be seen (boy, will participants thank you for that!)
Linking measures to goals
While the temptation may be to play with your new tracking toys and measure everything, this risks drowning you in an ocean of data. Instead, what you measure should be tied closely to your event objectives. If the main aim is to share information, you use different measures to those you’d use in an event that’s intended to build relationships.
Deciding on hard measures that align with your goals also helps in the design of your event. As you’re devising your content and interactive exercises, you can constantly cross-reference what you’re doing with your KPIs (remember the old adage: “What gets measured, gets done.”)
The numbers count
This pioneering approach can tell us how well we’ve met our goals. It can give us a direct comparison against other events (even at a sector-by-sector level). It can provide invaluable data for improving from one event to the next. This is the concrete information we need to go along with that soft and fuzzy positive vibe we all know we get when we put people in a room and get them working together on tasks and issues they care about (a trick even the most creative videos have yet to pull off!)
It’ll be interesting to see how this approach gets taken up by internal comms professionals. For those of you already setting clear objectives for your conferences and designing agendas and interactivity to deliver success, it’ll be music to your ears. For those in the business of sequencing PowerPoint decks, it won’t have much appeal, and might even threaten how they operate (a good thing, in my view).
The question now is: How do your events measure up?
Chris Elmitt is MD of Crystal Interactive, Axiom’s partner for audience interaction technology. Chris designs interaction and collaboration solutions for events all around the world and is a seasoned facilitator.
If you liked this blog then check out the rest in the series: