Plato wrote that “The beginning is the most important part of the work,” and this holds especially true for today’s meeting organizers.
If you build a well-designed event from the very beginning, where you design your event knowing what type of data and reports you will want to see, you will avoid many pitfalls and challenges that come from a poorly designed event that doesn’t address the reports and data ahead of the event.
As meeting planners, we are inundated with blog articles, social media, apps, and new-age lectures about engagement, creating exciting events, green events, and much more. But at the end of the day (or in this case, the end of the conference), you are left with one absolute truth – you must be able to report and document the success or failure of your event.
Whether you are reporting to your clients, your team, or to yourself, you need to find a way to pull together the hundreds of streams of data that made up your event and create a report or series of reports that analyze the success or failure of your event.
This information comes in many forms, and all if it is critical:
You typically do not see blog articles or webinars on the need for quality reports. Why? It’s boring! It’s not talking about mobile apps, social engagement, gamification, audience polling, or the dozens of other “fun” or “exciting” aspects of running a meeting.
But at the end of the day, it all boils down to one essential truth:
If you haven’t collected quality data about your event, you won’t be able to produce quality reports.
Or, to put it more succinctly – Garbage In, Garbage Out. It’s all about the Data!
In an April 22, 2014 blog article from the Event Manager Blog titled 12 habits of Unsuccessful Event Planners, the article ended with a great observation:
“If you don’t measure it, it doesn’t exist. ‘Guests were happy’ is not an acceptable KPI.”
Truer words have never been said.
In most universities with meeting management programs that are educating our future event organizers, the role of quality data is just a small part of the curriculum. More and more educators, however, are realizing the need to teach the fundamentals of reporting, data and understanding that designing a quality event structure from the very beginning is crucial.
Understanding the data you will need, the reports you will be running during and after your event all point back to your initial event design.
Not only do you need to ask the right questions during the registration process, you need to also make sure the right questions are required, what type of profile or background questions will help you evaluate your conference demographic, and most importantly, understanding how you will measure the success or failure of your program.
A great example was during a large technical conference our team was organizing a few years ago. The client was excited about mobile apps, but wouldn’t take advice about requiring the collection of a mobile telephone number.
“We don’t want to bother our attendees,” my client would say. “We can send out all notices and messages through the mobile app!”
I would counter with counsel that not everyone would want to install a mobile app on their smart phones, and mobile phone numbers were the most reliable way to communicate an urgent message while the conference was going on.
Needless to say, we didn’t require mobile telephone numbers to be provided, and of course not everyone installed the mobile app. Challenges ensued when stormy weather forced the pool party indoors for the closing event.
While this anecdote isn’t specifically about reports, it really is. Collecting quality data (mobile phone numbers) in the right format (required, not optional) would have allowed our client to be a much more effective event organizer.
The same truth applies to reporting.
If you don’t collect the data from the beginning, in a format useful to you, you won’t be able to pull quality reports before, during and after your event.
Another critical issue is your reporting technology.
Are you exporting data and trying to create meaningful reports? This is one of the hardest things to do, since spreadsheets are not optimally designed for detailed reporting. Graphs and charts, sure, but beyond that, the work you will need to do can be prohibitive. Even more important, once you export your data, it is immediately out of date, which basically eliminates the value of the report!
Does your registration or event management platform let you sort and filter data for truly customized reports? Not all systems are equal, and this can make huge difference in how you view and analyze data from your event.
For example, let’s say you want to view a report of all Directors or VPs who attended your conference, attended the session on Corporate Financial Standards, and held a certification in financial auditing.
This data would typically be found four different areas of your event database:
As you can see, you need a reporting platform that allows for multiple levels to search, filter and display data on four different criteria, residing in four different areas of your database. These are the types of post-event reports that clients often ask for, and you really don’t want to be exporting data to a spreadsheet and manually building such a report – an effort that can take a few hours or even days to make happen!
In closing, our greatest recommendation to all meeting planners is to build your event with your reports front and center of the process. Knowing that you are asking the right questions, in a format that can be used for quality reporting will provide you with a structure and a process that help you analyze your success in many ways.
And at the end of the day, that’s the real measure of success.