An event planner’s work is never done — not even when the event itself is over. There is so much planning involved in staging an event that it’s tempting to congratulate ourselves just for reaching the finish line. To keep our game in top form, however, it’s key to take an evaluative look back at our journey.
Yes, we are talking about an event debrief.
This kind of post-event analysis is a vital step in learning to streamline your process and develop best practices that reflect feedback from attendees and stakeholders alike.
If you want to develop a firm grasp on the strategies that were most helpful in achieving your event’s objectives, you will need to conduct a post-event analysis. It is all about learning to build on your past experiences to ensure continued success in the future.
What is ‘Debriefing’ Anyway?
The term “debrief” usually indicates a staff meeting held to discuss an event after the doors have closed, but sometimes it is also used to describe surveys and other forms of polling designed for gathering feedback. Ultimately, these surveys/polls should help to inform your debrief meeting, so the two approaches work hand in hand.
Both senses of the term “debrief” relate to the basic principle of assessing an event’s greatest strengths and weaknesses, but it is helpful to think of them as different stages in the process.
The survey stage is effectively about crowdsourcing people’s reactions and opinions, whereas the meeting stage is more about analyzing key performance indicators, determining what went well and what didn’t, and brainstorming solutions to challenges.
Put another way, event debrief surveys are just another way to conduct valuable research for your debrief meeting.
What to Ask: Ideas for Your Event’s Debrief Questions
You won’t get very far if you don’t have a clear idea of what to ask.
We know what brought you here. Let’s get right to it! Here is a list of debrief questions designed to give you actionable insights. If you want even more tips on how to debrief better, you’ll find those below.
What objectives did you set out for your event? If your team developed a series of action items at the end of last year’s event, were you able to successfully implement them this year? For example, if you launched a new program to offer continuing education credits, did you achieve the expected levels of attendee participation?
Discuss the goals of your event, establish if they were met, and consider what steps contributed to your success or failure.
Honest and accurate feedback allows you to make better business decisions about each event that you organize. 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 improvement over time.
Example Questions for Your Event Debrief: The Back End
The questions you use for your back-end debrief should be dedicated to improving logistical operations. Review the list below for some ideas on the types of questions you should be asking.
What were our original event objectives? Did we meet them?
Were there any problems encountered as we tried to meet our event objectives? (For example, ask questions related to registration or tech issues, budgetary constraints, revenue goals, marketing performance, and food & beverage issues)
Were those problems solved? How? Did we find the optimal solution?
Revenue and Cash Flow.
Did we meet our budget expectations? Was cash flow efficiently managed so that all purchase orders could be processed in a timely manner?
Were there any setbacks beyond our control, such as shipment delays or an extreme weather event? If so, did we find effective solutions for damage control? Are there any steps we can take to mitigate the impact of these situations in future?
As a team member, did you feel like you received adequate training to complete assigned tasks?
Were all instructions and expectations made clear from the outset?
Did you find that the information you needed to do your job was readily available to you?
What were some triumphs at our event? Who or what was responsible for them?
New Best Practices.
How can we replicate these successes in the future?
How effective and efficient was our registration process?
How did we utilize technology at this event? Was the tech we used easy to implement, maintain, and navigate? Did it provide useful data for analysis?
What would you like to see happen at similar events in the future?
Did you feel sufficiently included when the event’s objectives were initially laid out?
Did the event’s messaging correspond with your brand identity?
Were you always able to reach your designated liaison in a timely manner? Was your customer service experience satisfactory or exceptional?
Did the event fulfill all of its commitments in terms of promised promotional opportunities?
Was the process of sharing promotional content convenient and efficient? Were all logos, videos, and other promotional materials presented in the format of your choosing?
Were all sponsorship options made clear to you? Did you feel like you had an opportunity to broach new sponsorship ideas?
Were you given adequate support for setup? Was the experience well organized? For example, were the loading docks available when you needed them? Did you have to compete with other vendors to gain access to the building?
Were you given enough time to perform quality control checks? For example, were AV vendors able to test digital signage and do a thorough sound check?
Did the venue meet all of your requirements? For example, did caterers have access to adequate kitchen facilities? Did the AV team have sufficient access to power outlets and WiFi?
Example Questions for Your Event Debrief: The Front End
For your front-end debrief, you want to cover any areas that may affect the attendee experience. The questions that you ask attendees should be very similar to the ones your team needs to be asking itself about the front-end experience. The same principle holds true for the questions that you ask stakeholders.
Post-event evaluation questions are the best way to gain valuable feedback from your attendees and stakeholders. Knowing how they feel about your services is the first step in improving your business model. Read the list below to review possible questions for your front-end debrief.
Was your registration process convenient?
Did the pre-event marketing materials give you an accurate idea of the event’s main attractions?
Was the agenda clear? If the event’s app or website featured an interactive agenda, was it easy to navigate?
Were the presentations and other sessions thoughtfully organized into different tracks? Were there any frustrating scheduling conflicts that prevented you from taking advantage of all the available offerings?
Were there enough networking activities incorporated into the agenda? Did the event provide a convenient way for you to set up meetings with relevant business prospects? If there was a smart matchmaking service, did its features actually help to facilitate useful connections? What could be done better?
Did speaker sessions and other activities have a practical educational benefit?
Did workshops provide enough hands-on engagement? Did you have a chance to ask questions or receive one-on-one support?
Were presentations as engaging as they were informative?
If there were experience design features at the event, did they have a transformative influence on you?
Did you feel emotionally engaged in any narratives that were shared during presentations? Did the event’s messaging resonate with you?
If any continuing education credits were offered, did they present a useful professional development opportunity?
Were you aware of the event’s online presence? Did you actively post about the event on social media? If not, what could be done to encourage more online engagement?
Did you participate in any entertainment or wellness activities? Did they meet your expectations?
Information on Recreational Offerings.
Was there adequate information available on the recreational activities offered to attendees, or did you find out about them only after the fact?
If you provided an event app, what were the adoption rates? Is there any way that the experience could be made more user friendly? Are there any new features that you would like to see incorporated into next year’s app?
Were the catering options inadequate, adequate, or exceptional? If you have special dietary requirements, were your needs adequately accommodated?
Did attendees know where to seek customer service support? Were these services sufficiently helpful?
For Partners and Sponsors
Did the event provide sufficient opportunity to engage your target audience?
Did the event’s messaging correspond with your company’s core values and goals?
Did the event’s floor plan position your signage and/or booth in an optimal position? Was the layout organized in a way that facilitated efficient business networking?
Did the number of leads and conversions that you achieved meet your expectations? What could be done to improve your business prospects?
Did you have to field attendee complaints when delivering your services? Did you receive adequate support from the event’s in-house staff to handle customer service issues?
Did your company information receive adequate prominence on marketing materials and in other forms of communication? Would you be open to providing in-kind services in exchange for more high-profile marketing?
All of your questions should be designed to extract actionable takeaways. Evaluating the responses to your event questionnaire should lead to more questions that you will then direct towards your own management team during your final debrief meeting.
How can you learn from the feedback? Any ideas generated should act as a kind of scaffolding for your next event. If you do your event debrief right, you should have a readymade blueprint for all your future event planning needs.
Think about the ‘Front End’ and the ‘Back End’ When You Define Your Debrief Strategy
A good way to break down your debriefing process is to define it in terms of the “front end” and the “back end” of your event (as we have done above). Following this method, the front end relates to the attendee experience, while the back end pertains to all the work that goes on behind the scenes.
The Front End of Your Event Review
Your front-end debrief should begin with an assessment of attendee satisfaction, usually by posing survey-style questions at various stages of the event. Although the bulk of this process is conducted at the survey stage of debriefing, the information you gather from attendees will provide useful insight during your debrief meeting.
The Back End of Your Event Review
A back-end debrief, on the other hand, involves analyzing how effectively your team handled the logistics of your event. The first step in your back-end debrief is to gather statistics and other key metrics, such as year-over-year ticket sales and event app adoption rates.
Many organizations also choose to conduct an all-staff survey to generate internal feedback on the event’s operational performance. These types of surveys tend to focus on the productivity of your staff, the efficiency of task delegation, and the flow of information.
The final and most important stage of the back-end debrief involves presenting your findings to a core group of managerial staff, who will then be able to discuss key takeaways.
Soliciting Feedback: How and When to Ask Debrief Questions
Both the survey and the meeting stage of your event debrief should revolve around a set of central questions. In a sense, debriefing an event simply means asking — and hopefully answering — a series of targeted questions about the event itself.
Even if you feel confident that your event was a resounding success, how can you be sure that everyone involved has the same impression? How can you guarantee that next year’s event will run at least as well without becoming monotonous? How do you know what drives attendee engagement, or what your partners want to see next?
When it comes to getting a great response rate, how and when you ask your questions is often just as important as what you want to know.
Your strategy will largely depend on who you are addressing. Your debrief questions should be directed at four core groups:
- Attendees (the front end)
- All staff (the team players at the back end)
- Managerial staff (the team leaders at the back end)
- Stakeholders (vendors, sponsors, and partners, who often have equal stake in both the front and back ends)
You will want to take a different strategic approach when addressing each of these groups.
Prompt them to provide feedback on their satisfaction levels to help you better assess the front-end experience.
During the event
- If you have an event app, send users push notifications that automatically prompt them to rate any sessions or activities they attend; incorporate polls to gain more nuanced insight.
- Consider an event app that incorporates a chatbot — any questions posed to the chatbot will provide insight into issues that your attendees may be facing.
- Encourage attendees to make social media posts using an event-branded hashtag; after the event is over, this hashtag will make it easy for you to gather research on what kinds of comments your attendees made online.
- Post event-related questions and polls on Facebook and Twitter.
After the event
- Use the app to prompt people to fill out the post-event survey in the final hours of the event.
- When you send out a thank-you email immediately following the event, include a link to your post-event survey.
- Keep most questions short with simple multiple choice options, but offer optional comment or ‘other’ short-text fields, and provide at least one textbox for open-ended feedback.
Encourage your team to share their on-the-ground perspective to improve back-end efficiency.
During the event
- If you work in a large organization, ask each department to conduct a short daily debrief where staff can pose and field questions as they come up.
- If you work in a smaller organization, consider conducting a short end-of-day debrief for your entire team.
After the event
- Create a post-event questionnaire directed at staff; ideally, this survey should require some identifying information like job title so that department-specific issues can be pinpointed.
- Consider offering a second anonymous feedback form for general comments.
Work together with your team leaders to develop the questions that will guide every stage of the back-end debrief.
During the event
- If you are conducting daily debrief meetings, provide managers with a set of questions to help guide the discussion among their team members.
- Ask them to take notes on any issues that arise during these discussions so that they can share them at the post-event debrief meeting.
After the event
- Invite managers to a comprehensive debrief meeting structured around the issues raised in feedback from attendees and staff.
- The agenda of this meeting should revolve around the core questions posed to attendees and staff. How would the managers expect people to answer the questions? Which speaker session do they think would rank highest? Do they anticipate any employee complaints? Do the results of the surveys match their expectations?
- If you can identify areas for improvement, approach the challenge by posing another set of questions. How can you solve the problem?
Provide stakeholders with an avenue to voice their opinions on both the front-end and back-end experience.
During the event
- Make sure that each of your key stakeholders has been given information on a primary point of contact who can address their questions as they come in.
- Encourage this liaison to proactively approach stakeholders with pertinent questions during the event. Is anything undermining the front-end or back-end experience at your event?
- Ask this liaison to record any stakeholder feedback received during the event, and use this feedback to frame the questions that you pose in your final debrief meeting.
After the event
- Create a separate post-event questionnaire for each of your key stakeholder groups: sponsors, partners, and vendors.
- Invite a representative from each stakeholder group to the final debrief meeting, and encourage these executives to actively participate in the manager’s Q&A discussion.
No matter who you are addressing, it is important to ask for feedback as soon as possible. When possible, begin asking the right questions during the event itself. Send out follow-up surveys as soon as the event closes.
It’s a good idea to have a debrief strategy in place even before your event begins: gathering information every step of the way is key to developing a comprehensive picture of your event’s success.
How to Lead a Debriefing Session
As long as you apply your finely-honed event planning skills when setting up your debrief meeting, you should be able to handle it like the pro that you are.
Represent Each Core Group at Your After-Event Review
The first step in organizing your event debrief meeting is deciding who to invite. If you work in a small organization, you may be able to include all staff. Otherwise, you should select representative members of the management team; be sure to ask managers to come prepared with feedback from any staff members that they supervise.
You could also invite key representatives from partner organizations, sponsors, and vendors, or hold separate debriefs with each to evaluate the success of the event relative to their specific KPIs.
The number of perspectives that you bring into the fold should be both diverse and manageable. Including different points of view will allow your discussion to be more comprehensive, but too many voices could derail the meeting’s focus, especially if the KPIs across the different participants are not well aligned.
Provide a Structured Checklist to Keep Your Debrief Session on Track
After figuring out your list of invitees, the next step is to develop a carefully organized agenda. It’s a good idea to structure the agenda around the questions you asked in your back-end questionnaire and front-end survey.
Try to cluster discussions around topic areas like the ones bolded in the question examples above. Review the debrief checklist below to ensure that you follow a step-by-step discussion process:
- Introduce the area and relevant performance indicators.
- Discuss any related feedback gathered from all key parties.
- Acknowledge examples of success.
- Address any issues that might have arisen.
- Discuss best practices that will allow you to carry over any successes and avoid repeating any problems.
- Discuss specific procedural, organizational or systemic challenges and any proposed solutions to improve for the next event.
It’s not necessary to cover every topic reviewed in your debrief surveys and questionnaires. To generate the most productive conversation, it’s best to focus on your strongest and weakest areas.
If you provide meeting participants with a comprehensive report on your findings before the debrief, you can set aside some time at the end of the meeting for participants to offer insight into any areas that might warrant further discussion.
Foster a Positive Atmosphere for Sharing Ideas
Your team members will be more honest and forthcoming with their contributions if they feel supported.
Remember to be respectful and professional whenever reviewing your staff’s performance. When discussing your successes, it’s important to recognize any outstanding contributions from members of staff. On the other hand, if you are addressing problems that occurred during the event, it’s best to avoid pointing fingers during a group meeting. Try to limit the discussion to generic advice. If a particular staff member needs to be held accountable for underperforming in some way, it should be done in a private meeting or through HR channels.
Designate a Discussion Moderator to Lead Your Debriefing Session
To ensure that the conversation stays on track, someone should be moderating the discussion at all times. While you may be the most natural fit for this position, it may be a good idea to select someone else to guide specific parts of the meeting. For example, your marketing director might be a good person to lead any discussions related to communications and brand management.
For each area of discussion, you may also want to make a list of key participants to approach for feedback. Asking direct questions to specific people is sometimes the best way to ensure you cover every key area.
Create a Constructive Debrief Template to Guide the Discussion
The example questions we addressed above should give you a pretty good idea of how to approach your debrief, but it’s also wise to consider how you will structure your post-event evaluation form. This debrief form should be a distillation of the key points from any prior surveys and questionnaires, and it should work hand-in-hand with your meeting agenda.
A carefully-designed debrief template form translates to a well-organized debrief session.
The easiest way to conduct an event debriefing is by having a good skeleton framework for beginning the discussion.
The template we present here is primarily suited to the back-end component of your debrief, although you should also highlight key takeaways generated from your front-end debrief research.
For example, if your social media campaign generated much more engagement than in previous years, consider asking your meeting participants to discuss the initiatives that helped to kickstart this growing traction.
Your template should contain a series of questions that will guide a process of reflection and draw out feedback that people may have otherwise forgotten.
In order to provoke a thoughtful discussion, you need to ask questions that will elicit more developed answers than a simple “yes” or “no” response. Your debrief 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 able to attend the meeting itself.
In fact, for those other stakeholders, you may want to develop a separate template to facilitate separate meetings to evaluate event success according to the different KPIs and objectives at play.
If you do, you may also want to have those meetings before your internal debrief (or conduct a second one afterwards) so the outcome can inform your own internal assessment. Otherwise, you may find yourself patting yourselves on the back at the internal meeting only to discover later that your sponsors aren’t happy.
10 Key Parts of an Effective Event Debrief Template
Ask for Name and Role
A truly effective debrief template should generate feedback that is specific to the respondent’s job role; as such, anonymous submissions may be less practicable. To make it clear that you want each respondent to provide input that speaks to their unique position, include a section for respondents to fill out their name and job title. If you want to leave room for anonymous contributions, consider creating an additional open-ended comment submission platform.
Create a Clear Structure
Organize your template by topic areas. Possible examples include food & 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, outline any related objectives, with a list of any measurable performance indicators bulleted below. Then ask respondents to explain whether they feel the objectives were met, and offer insight into any factors that might have affected the outcome. Don’t feel the need to ask every participant about every area. Your vendors, for instance, should only be asked about topics that directly affect them.
If any objectives were not met, what could have been done better? Again, share the challenges and specifics behind each outcome. Even if team members are uncertain about the answers, generating hypotheses will allow you to test your ideas at future events.
List the Tactics
Your template should include a space to articulate your event strategies. If you began your event with a set of specific action items, identify these tactics in short statements. Ask participants whether or not the strategies were effectively implemented.
Review the Highlights
To set a positive tone for your meeting, it’s a good idea to highlight your successes at the outset 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. Make sure that any negative comments are framed to emphasize problem-solving instead of blame-assigning, and draw from your successes when tackling your weak points.
Did you fail to meet some of your objectives? If so, how can you do better next time? For instance, if you are approaching close to a 100% attendance rate among your members, the best way to improve attendance could be through member recruitment.
Brainstorm Ideas to Improve Your Next Event
Make sure you incorporate both specific and general areas of improvement. For instance, “digital signage was more effective than printed alternatives” and “sponsors are looking for new promotional opportunities.” It’s also okay for respondents to offer their opinions.
Address the Lines of Communication
Ask the team members if they felt like expectations were clearly conveyed before, during, and after the event. Why or why not?
Share Overheard Comments
Word of mouth is extremely important to an event’s success. Leave room to discuss what your team “overheard.” Make sure that whoever is responsible for the event’s social media is involved in this part of the discussion.
Present Audience Feedback
Present the highlights from any attendee feedback that you’ve gathered. 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 so that you can tease out innovative approaches to future events.
Make sure you also take the time to assess the use of technology at your event. This area is changing so rapidly that new possibilities are bound to crop up every year. If you used an event app, did it work as planned and help you accomplish your event goals? Was it easily adopted? If not, was it a question of a poor communication strategy on your end, or was the user experience somehow lacking?
Conducting an event debrief is a necessary process to ensure that you build on your past experiences. 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.
Make sure you cover each of the following key groups when developing debrief questions:
Although the lines dividing each stage of the debrief process are blurred, it’s important to think about each aspect individually.
- Develop a key set of questions relating to the back-end and front-end of your event.
- Provide avenues for diverse groups to contribute feedback and pose their own questions.
- Organize a debrief meeting with managerial staff, and discuss key takeaways from the feedback-gathering stage of your debrief process.
- Create a debrief template for key representatives from staff and third-party groups.
- Use this debrief evaluation form to guide your debrief meeting.
If you are strategic about your debrief process, you will end up with actionable knowledge about what worked, what didn’t, and what you can do to leverage these insights. Ultimately, you want to create a plan for how to keep your clients, your partners, and your attendees happy and coming back for more.