Written by Mark Dolce

Just put on a great event. Okay, good night. Thanks for coming. Drive safely.

Seriously, if all you had to do was put on a great event, then every great event would see significant, year-over-year growth and we could retire to Barbados already. We know that’s not the case. However, there are several things you can do to raise your event satisfaction in addition to producing a solid event. Here’s why you should care. High satisfaction creates positive word-of-mouth, which is one of your best and least expensive recruitment tools out there.

  1. Start with Your Post-Event Survey. The post-event survey is one of your best tools for gauging participant satisfaction, but it’s also a potential source of ways to improve the event. It’s well worth the investment of time and resources to develop a comprehensive, thoughtful survey. Here are a couple of tips on constructing a survey that can improve your event satisfaction. First, you should include a question that asks whether or not the person would recommend the event to others. This question is a key measure of satisfaction because it asks about a behavior (referral) that is based on being satisfied.You should also include a space for an open-ended response, and then collate and analyze these responses. Yes, it will be a space for some people to ax-grind, but these open-ended comments often become significant touchstones that lead to positive changes. If you think about it, a person took the time to type out an extra response, so it probably warrants your attention. You never know where it will lead.And one last thing regarding surveys. Give your participants a couple of chances to take the survey by sending out an announcement and a reminder emails. The repetition is important, as you’ll see in the next item.
  1. Repetition in Communication. This may be heartbreaking, but no one reads your emails and your website with the same attention that you do. We may hope they do, but they don’t. So, if you have an important aspect of the event that all participants should know or have some passing familiarity with, then repeat it. Repeat it. For MuckFest MS, our mud and obstacle series produced in partnership with the National MS Society, we can’t have too many people out on the course–it’s a safety issue–so teams get assigned start times about two weeks before the event and after online registration closes. Knowing this process is the difference between a satisfied customer and a disappointed one, so we explain the start time process over and over, beginning with the first email. This repetition pays dividends because it significantly cuts down on participant inquiries and the bad kind of on-event surprise.
  1. Updates and Changes, Anticipating Reactions. Most successful events don’t need an extreme head-to-toe makeover. However, every event should make updates and changes from year-to-year. Refreshing the look and feel of an event can have a salutary effect that you’ll see in your survey results and in your campaign for the following year’s event. For example, on the 3-Day, staff updated and transformed a relaxation area in camp into a lounge space that was cool and glamp-tastic. For repeat participants, this was new and exciting, but it was also exciting for the new participants who had never experienced a 3-Day camp.However, not all changes or updates are positive. Some painful choices and changes are due to budget or other constraints. Anticipating the response to what are perceived to be negative changes will help mitigate fallout from those changes. Be proactive and anticipate negative reaction by preparing staff and volunteers ahead of time. On our MuckFest MS event we eliminated chip-timing due to budget constraints but highlighted the cheaper timing clocks and new photography vendor to participants with great success. Having a coordinated communication plan and response will lessen the negative feedback that might turn up in your post-event survey and reduce any residual impact during the following year’s recruitment campaign.
  1. New Blood. Every successful event should see a transfusion of new participants from year-to-year. If you’re not tracking new and returning participants, then start doing it, because it’s a good indicator of the vitality of your event. We tend to focus on the big number of overall attendance, but we should give equal attention to the number of new participants. Remember, a certain percentage of your new participants will become your repeat stalwarts and steadfast supporters, but that won’t happen by accident. Identifying and targeting communication toward new participants can increase your repeat participant percentage the following year.
  1. Acknowledging and Honoring Your Superstars and Stalwarts. While new participants will rejuvenate your event, your repeat and loyal participants will remain the heart, soul and backbone. You should constantly reflect upon how you acknowledge, honor and reward their contribution to your event. It’s not about incentives or gimmicky rewards. It’s about strengthening the bond between your organizational mission and your most active, engaged constituents. Here we’re talking about not only the top fundraisers, but also the stalwart volunteers who assist before, during and after the event. Finding a meaningful way to honor their commitment is a top priority and is never just one thing, but a mosaic of things designed to sustain interest and dignify their achievement, and strengthen that bond. A few years back the 3-Day took a look at how to better acknowledge the contributions of their most steadfast supporters and most engaged walkers. It’s been years in the making, but the program they developed has been transformative in a variety of ways. So, it’s not just the small tweaks to a rewards program, it’s also the comprehensive approach that does not end when you fold-up the tents at the end of the event.
  1. Debrief with Staff and Key Volunteers. Ultimately, you’re running the show, so you’ll want to know from your staff and key volunteers what worked, and what needs work. Spending time to discuss, debate, kvetch and otherwise reflect upon the event is an all-important part of ultimately satisfying your constituents. Assign a good note-taker and make sure someone talented in the art of meeting management runs the discussion and monitors the parameters of the discussion. Deliberate, structured, and inclusive post-event debriefs are a cornerstone of all our event projects and they are an invaluable tool for making events better for all involved.
  1. Embrace the Question Mark. One of my favorite quotes by Bertrand Russell is directly applicable to improving the quality of your event and thus raising your event satisfaction results: ““In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” The key bit is at the end regarding the “things you have long taken for granted.” With any reasonably successful event, it’s easy to overlook the aspects of the event that do well. However, it is human nature to become complacent, so hang a big question on everything about your event, if only for the sake of due diligence.

This list was only seven items long, but it easily could have been 47. If you want to hear about some of the other 40 things you can do to make your event better, drop us a line. Or if you have a tip or advice about what you’ve done to make your event better, leave a comment on this post. We would love to hear from you.

Mark Dolce is a copywriter for Event 360. He writes for the MuckFest MS event series and Susan G. Komen Washington, D.C. Race for the Cure.

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