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The ultimate guide to event surveys

“Event coordinator” is consistently ranked as one of the most stressful jobs in existence—just under firefighters, pilots, and military personnel. 

When you’re sprinting through the convention center to ask about a backup generator, or frantically calling the delivery service about a missing lunch option, or trying to talk your keynote speaker down from a panic attack, building a feedback program is probably the last thing on your mind. But feedback is exactly the thing that’s going to spare you these types of fire drills in the future. 

77% of event professionals aren’t using surveys at all, according to Eventbrite’s 2019 Pulse Report. That’s a critical missed chance for valuable insights, which could help you with not only better event experiences, but also better marketing overall! Insights from event surveys can help you:

  • Generate more leads
  • Win more marketing budget with compelling statistics about your event’s success (or shortcomings)
  • Understand your audience more, including their challenges and desires
  • Collect social proof and other data points for future marketing efforts

Note: If you’re using Eventbrite for your event, you can use our integration to sync your SurveyMonkey data with your Eventbrite event, contacts, etc. 

SurveyMonkey can help you or your team learn what attendees want to learn about, collect valuable leads and market research, and improve your next event.

  1. Shorter is always better
  2. Don’t require responses to each question
  3. Ask your most important question first—and on its own page
  4. Embed your first question in the email
  5. Market to the middle

This is a best practice for surveys in general, but it’s especially important when it comes to event surveys. Attendees are doing you a favor by filling out this survey, so you have to be respectful of their time. Try to limit yourself to 5 questions and stick to the essentials.

Use an open-ended question or 2 to ask for general feedback or ideas, but keep the rest of your survey (especially the logistical questions) to multiple choice questions with an “other” option. That way people have less writing to do, but still have space to voice any ideas/concerns you haven’t thought about. 

If you absolutely need to ask more questions than 5 questions, use skip logic whenever possible to ensure that respondents are only seeing the questions that are relevant to them—don’t ask them whether they liked the salad at the lunch and learn if they didn’t come. 

Yes, you want as much event feedback as possible, but requiring answers to every single question is self-defeating, because it means that your respondents will have to complete every question on the page for you to see any of their responses. 

In fact, don’t make any of the questions “required” if you can help it. Any data you gather is good, and even if people skip a few questions, you’ll still get the input from their other responses. 

The exception to this is questions that use skip logic to drop people into different versions of the survey based on their responses. You’ll need to make these questions required, so try to keep them early in the survey. 

Speaking of keeping things early in the survey, here’s another best practice: Ask your most critical questions first. For most events, this is a broad question about attendee satisfaction, like “Overall, how would you rate the event?” or “How likely is it that you would recommend the event to a friend?”. 

Put this question on its own page before getting into more specifics. When respondents click “next,” SurveyMonkey captures and logs the answer, so even if they lose interest halfway through and don’t complete the survey, you’ll still get data on your most important question. 

Put the questions that are hardest to answer last. It’s better to get incomplete data from a wide range of participants who answer your first couple questions than fully completed event surveys from fewer people.

You’ll also want to give your event surveys a sort of intuitive flow, grouping questions by topic so that people can understand and respond more quickly and easily. For instance, you might have a few questions about event content on one page, and a few questions about logistics on the next.

Save any questions about demographics for the very last page. It’s less important compared to your actual event feedback data, but can be useful for filtering and identifying trends. 

Don’t simply link to your survey in your post-event email. Embed your first question in the survey itself. Email is generally your primary means of communication with attendees, and embedding your survey directly into your email makes it easier for them to answer quickly, and without having to follow a link. This will get you higher response rates and more accurate results. 

A SurveyMonkey study found a 22% increase in survey opens when the survey’s first question was right in the email. And not only are people more likely to open a survey that teases the first question, they’re also 20% more likely to finish the entire survey.

If people have strong opinions about your event—whether they loved it or hated it—they’re more likely to take your survey and vent those passionate feelings. But to get really robust insights, you need more than that. You need more responses, and you need more moderate responses. That middle group of people who liked your event just okay are important. They’re the ones you can convert to superfans if you listen closely to their event feedback.

To inspire the less-passionate folks to respond, structure your survey in a way that makes answering as easy as possible (short, multiple choice, etc.) and make sure to include Likert scale questions (a scale of answer options typically ranging from “Strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”) to give moderates a chance to voice their opinions accurately. 

Event feedback isn’t always straightforward. Sometimes you find yourself wading through conflicting reports and incomplete data. Even worse, sometimes your data will be skewed by people who raced through the survey without reading it or simply didn’t care. A holistic analysis of results can help you make sense of what you’re seeing.

  • Look at overall trends: It’s normal to have a few outliers, and not all respondents will put the same amount of care into their survey responses. Don’t get hung up on one or two responses that don’t seem to make sense.
  • Segment your feedback with filters: Filter the answers by demographic questions to identify trends within groups. For instance, check if there are differences between what Gen Xers liked about your event and what Gen Z had to say. You can also segment by experience or other factors: Look only at those who replied that they did not have a good time at your event to see how they answered other questions about things like food, content, etc.
  • Eliminate responses from questionable sources: Sometimes—especially if you used incentives to get people to take your survey—they fly through the questions without reading them or trying to respond appropriately. Luckily, you can identify these troublemakers by filtering your audience by response time (and eliminate anyone who finished the survey in, say, 30 seconds or a minute.)
  • Create word clouds from responses to open-ended questions: If you don’t have time to read every single one, use word clouds to mine all your open-ended responses for common words and themes. Word clouds also make great visuals to include in presentations. 

You can use surveys before, during, and after your event to provide the best possible experience for attendees and advance your other marketing goals. Here’s how. 

If you’ve ever used a streaming service like Netflix or Spotify, you probably don’t need to have the joys of personalization explained to you. Everyone likes getting an experience that’s tailored to their interests. Imagine being able to do the same thing for your event attendees. That’s what pre-event surveys are for.

Pre-event surveys can help you achieve 2 main objectives: crafting the most relevant possible content and ironing out logistics—questions about dietary restrictions, transportation, arrival times, etc. In both cases, the more you can plan out in advance, the better. 
The way you build your survey depends on your goal and how much influence you want to give your attendees. You can have attendees help choose the speaker or major topics, or just collect questions about the talks in advance.

The way that you structure, time, and send your pre-event surveys will vary dramatically depending on how much influence you’re willing to give your attendees. Most event planners probably aren’t willing to let their guests pick the speaker, but settling on workshop topics or talking points will require more time to analyze and act on than a simple logistics survey.  

Here’s what you need to decide before you even start your pre-event survey.

  • How much flexibility you have on speakers, topics, and other content—and which stakeholders will have a say in that flexibility (You can even use a separate survey to let executives, speakers, or other people involved in the event weigh in on what they’d like to know)
  • What details you need to know about your attendees (allergies, arrival times, etc.)
  • The details that would be nice to know (employer, job title, etc.)—pre-event surveys are more likely to get completed than post-event surveys because attendees are incentivized to respond in order to improve their own experiences. This means that you can sneak in a question or 2.
  • How much time it will take you to put everything together, assuming you give attendees a few weeks to respond to your survey

Your survey questions will vary depending on the kind of marketing event you’re hosting, but here’s a very general pre-event survey template you can customize to suit your needs.

Here are some other examples:

  • Which workshop are you most interested in attending?
  • Do you plan to stay at one of the recommended hotels?
  • What made you decide to attend this conference?
  • Which topic would you be interested in having more sessions dedicated to?
  • Will you require any special accommodations for a disability?
  • Do you have dietary restrictions? 
  • Was there any information that you felt was missing or anything else you’d like to know?

Again, timing pre-event surveys depends on how much input you’re asking for. There are a few different ways to do it.

Option 1: For maximum influence (like helping choose session topics, etc.) send the survey 3-4 months before the event. This gives you ample time to collect and analyze feedback and then share them with your speaker. Depending on the size of the event and caliber of speaker, this could also give you enough time to choose the speaker (for example, if you’re planning an internal workshop at your company, rather than an all-out conference.)

Option 2: If you’re asking about logistics and demographics questions (Where are you staying? What’s your job title?), then 2-3 weeks before the event is more appropriate. You’ll get the information that you need and will start to get attendees excited for the event.

Option 3: The last option is to send 2 surveys, 1 several months before the event and 1 a few weeks before. This option gives you maximum feedback, though it does ask respondents to do a little more work. In general, 2 short surveys spread out over a long period of time is usually okay from a respondent experience perspective, but do keep in mind that you’re still asking them to do you a favor. You may also choose to only survey a select group of people (MVPs) in your first survey, which would reduce survey fatigue in other people, and has the added benefit of showing your MVP group how much you value their insights.

Regardless of when you decide to send your surveys, the best way to do it is probably through email. Recent data shows that that’s how most people prefer to communicate with brands. 

The #1 thing to do with your results, of course, is create a tailored event. But this is also a good opportunity to map out attendee demographics. How many people are traveling in from out of town? How many representatives are there from different industries?

You can use that information to inform future events, assess your pre-event promotions to understand who you attracted and why, and filter for trends.

Some of this data may also help you with budget appeals. If you can prove that your attendees are a high-value audience and that they’re interested in a certain topic or type of experience, you have justification for a little extra cushion. Export your charts and graphs and embed them into presentations to make the point you need to make.