Dear Producer: Has Your Conference Become a Little Tired?


It Might be Time for an Event Audit

Dear Producer: Over the last few years, our annual conference has seemed to lose a bit of its luster. We have also begun to observe a slight downturn in attendance, even though our post-event surveys have been favorable. At first we thought it might be due to our choice of conference locations, but now we’re concerned it could be something more than that. Can you offer any suggestions as to what the next steps might be for our association? – Hopeful CMP

Dear Hopeful CMP: It might be a good time for your conference team to consider an event audit, especially if you haven’t implemented one in quite a while.

And if this is your first audit, then the timing couldn’t be better to re-design, re-brand and re-engage your audience.

Most often, the term “audit” sends shivers down the spines of many of us. But an event audit, performed by objective on-site observers, should be a welcomed comprehensive analysis of the conference, which could very well benefit your association in the long term.

So where do you begin?

The first step:  Pull your team together and identify, from all perspectives, why they feel the conference is or isn’t meeting its objectives.

Next: Gather as much data as you can – attendance trends, event locations, keynote speakers, past surveys, financial records regarding the conference. Were there any unique events that either spiked or may have impacted attendance?

The third step is to identify and choose your audit team. These individuals should be people that you trust will be impartial and can blend in with your attendees. Their mission is to determine what’s working and what’s not, and then offer suggestions on how you can improve the overall experience for your attendees.

Fourth:  Present all the data gathered to your selected audit team. Allow time for their analysis. They should look for possible connections within the data sets, strengths and weaknesses. They should provide you with a concise report from your data.

Next step:   Using their report as a foundation going forward, work with your auditors to develop a mission plan that outlines those aspects of your conference you feel need the most scrutiny. Do your general sessions contain enough audience engagement? Are you getting enough value from your AV vendor when it comes to workshops, exhibit space, and general sessions? Are your pre-/post-event communications truly speaking to your potential attendees? These are just a few areas of focus that should be taken into account when drawing up your event audit mission plan.

The sixth step is what happens onsite. Other elements of your conference that should be considered for evaluation include, but are not limited to, the review of your:

●      Overall conference design

●      Content

●      Programming

●      Attendee engagement

●      Costs of attendance

●      Venue and accommodations

●      Signage/ease of getting from one session to another

●      Food and beverage

●      Networking opportunities

●      Keynote/association speakers

●      Event app

●      Entertainment

●      On-site/off-site receptions

●      Alternative conferences

One other very important aspect of the audit is to conduct one-on-one interviews with your attendees and volunteers. Be sure that your auditors feel comfortable talking with these subjects knowing that some of them may be staff. Yes, you did say that you already offer post-conference surveys. But you’d be surprised at the wealth of information that can result from a 10- to 15-minute conversation with attendees – information that, thanks to some gentle prodding, they might not have thought to include in their surveys.

And your final step – review, with an open mind, the executive report submitted by your audit team. Discuss who your stakeholders are, and be sure that their key questions have been answered.

Your team also needs to be committed and have the ability to look at the report from a creative, meeting planning, content and financial perspective. This is the main reason why you conduct an event audit, and why it’s so important to many of our own production and design clients.

What you take away from this report and decide to implement in the future could be the difference between just an average conference and one that your attendees can’t wait to return to next year.

Good luck!

Jim Pringle is a senior producer at Fusion Productions, with more than 25 years of experience as a meetings, events and television producer. Fusion Productions is a recognized expert in meeting design, analysis, eLearning, innovative engagement techniques and experiential learning.