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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. 

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5 rules for better event surveys at every stage

  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

1. Shorter is always better

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. 

2. Don’t require responses to each question

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. 

3. Ask your most important question first—and on its own page

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. 

4. Embed your first question in the email

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.

5. Market to the middle

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. 

How to analyze an event survey 

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. 

When to use event surveys: before, during and after your event

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. 

Pre-event surveys: Get attendee input for a customized experience

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.

How to make a pre-event survey 

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

Examples of pre-event survey questions:

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?

When to send pre-event surveys:

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. 

What to do with your results:

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.

Mid-event surveys: Market research at your fingertips  

Mid-event surveys are a goldmine for both event marketers and market researchers. It’s the perfect opportunity to get authentic impressions from people while they’re immersed in the experience. Whether you’re interested in feedback about your product, the event itself, or a general industry perspective, events are a rare opportunity to get instant insights into a targeted group of people. 

How to make a mid-event survey

Mid-event surveys can help in 2 different ways: 1) lead generation and 2) market research. Unlike pre- and post-event surveys, these are less about throwing a great event and more about extracting more value from the event.

Creating leads is the reason that many companies choose to have events at all. It’s an extremely important part of determining event success. Your primary goal for lead gen surveys  is to make your surveys as painless and enticing as possible.

For market research, your goals could be a little more diverse, like getting insights for product development or marketing, or data points for future content. Mid-event surveys can help you learn about:

  • Impressions of your product, new feature, or marketing strategy
  • Common challenges, wishlists, etc. among professionals in your industry
  • Trends and predictions for the industry
  • Customer/prospect profiles

The structure of your survey will be different depending on whether you’re using it lead gen and market research. For lead generation, you’ll want to stick to an ultra quick survey that focuses on contact information and details about their employer and role, with little room for anything else. Market research surveys, on the other hand, will vary depending on what you’re asking about. 

Here are a few best practices for mid-event market research surveys:

  • Keep your surveys focused on 2-3 key areas of interest, regardless of what you’re asking about. You can have a couple of questions for each area of interest, but getting more ambitious than that will drop your response rates and result in weaker, less fully fleshed out findings.
  • Be very clear about the specific areas you want to explore (impressions on pricing, biggest pain points they are facing, etc.). This will get you more definitive answers.
  • Include a demographic question or 2 that really matters to you. You’re going to want to keep your survey as short as possible, but you’re also going to want to see exactly who is giving you the feedback you’re looking for. A CMO’s answers might be more valuable to you than someone who’s just there for the free lunch.

The best practice for lead gen surveys is much more straightforward: Get all the information you need as succinctly as you possibly can.

Whichever your use case, your means of collecting responses will often be similar. Here are your main options:

  • Staff armed with tablets, who ask attendees to take a quick survey face-to-face—either at a booth or in the midst of the event
  • QR codes built into presentations and/or marketing materials (like posters) that attendees easily scan to immediately take the survey on their own device
  • Kiosks (also using tablets), where attendees can drop their thoughts at their leisure

One area of caution: Big events spaces and trade shows have notorious connectivity issues, so don’t count on consistent WiFi to support your survey-taking efforts. SurveyMonkey Anywhere allows you to capture answers offline. The data will upload to the cloud the next time you connect. 

Want to collect survey data offline?
SurveyMonkey Anywhere enables you to gather feedback without worrying about the internet collection—and to analyze and sync it with your other data at your leisure.
Learn more

If you’ve ever been to a conference yourself, you’re probably acquainted with another characteristic of in-person surveys: incentives. Tee shirts, superhero figurines, raffles with a chance to win an iPad or a potted plant. It’s all a part of the conference experience.

 If you want to go for big response rates and an automated reward for your survey takers, SurveyMonkey’s integration with Sendoso enables you to automatically trigger gift cards, swag, or other rewards when someone completes a survey. 

Popular incentives include gift cards, food or drinks, accessories, or company swag, or entry into a raffle, but if you want to get more creative with it, Sendoso suggests more unique offerings in a recent ebook, including:

  • A plant (Sendoso recommendations include a desk succulent, a sapling, and a bonsai tree)
  • A piñata filled with positive reviews of the client’s company
  • Membership to services like Audible or Amazon Prime
  • Fresh fruit, or wine and cheese
  • A lava lamp
  • A fancy card
  • A customized mug, yoyo, or bobblehead

If you want to know more about DIY market research, check out our Ultimate guide to market research for more. 

Examples of mid-event survey questions:

Here are some typical areas to cover in a survey that’s purely for lead gen:

  • A question or 2 about what they’re interested in and why—maybe this is a feature you’re demoing or a new product that you’ve teased
  • A question or 2 about their top challenges (the problem that they’re trying to solve)
  • Name
  • Work email address
  • Phone number
  • Role—SurveyMonkey offers a standard dropdown option for this, based on the U.S. census standard
  • Industry—SurveyMonkey also has an option for this one

Market research surveys will vary more, but best practice is to choose 3 or so core areas that you’re interested in learning about and dedicate 1-2 questions to each area. 

Let’s say that Spark Industries is thinking about building a new product—like, say, a jet suit. They can use SparkX as a way to gauge interest, assess possible safety concerns, and identify possible target buyers.

If you’d like to dabble in your own market research, our ultimate guide to DIY market research can help.

When to send mid-event surveys:

Kiosks, posters, and booth attendants mean that you can have your mid-event surveys open for as long as your event is open. Areas near bathrooms and food facilities tend to be good places to set these materials up, since attendees are more likely to be loitering there during their downtime (or waiting in line).

Other opportunities to get eyes on your surveys are:

  • At the end of a major speech or keynote
  • At socials/mixers associated with the event
  • At dedicated booths/demos

What to do with your results:

There are a few different things to do with your mid-event surveys when you’ve wrapped up.

  • Qualify your leads—or hand the survey results to someone who can. If you work in marketing full-time, this part may be second nature to you. If not, here’s a quick note: Most salespeople will want a little more context than an email address and a name. Make sure you’re only sharing the survey respondents that it makes sense for salespeople to reach out to. An easy way to do this is by filtering for role, industry, or job title, or by responses to one of your first few questions. Make sure to share the all the relevant info with your sales team so that they aren’t flying blind.
  • Share findings internally for product development or refined marketing messaging: Your survey research can help your product team understand which features or elements are confusing to people and your marketing team understand which elements to emphasize in future content.
  • Collect social proof in your event marketing: Surveys are a great source of marketing material. You might have striking statistics from your multiple choice questions (“87% of attendees said they would come to this event again!” “92% of people wish that they had a jet suit!”) or compelling quotes from your open-ended questions (“I was blown away by the level of detail in that talk—can’t wait to come back.” “The interface on this product is gorgeous!”)

    If you asked an NPS question and got a positive response, you can use that as a talking point. There’s nothing like a glowing review to set you up for success: 82% of people trust the voice of customers more than language that comes directly from the brand.

    You can also use NPS questions to filter your results, so that you’re only seeing responses from promoters when you’re trying to find the right quote.
  • Use your findings to pitch the media and build up PR buzz:  If you used your event to do a little market research or to get some insights about people’s preferences, you might be able to use those findings to win a little limelight. Pitch media with your exclusive findings for a potential feature, or save away little tidbits for future press interactions.

Post-event surveys: Clear insights into your event marketing strategy

When your event is over, you probably want to pop some champagne and put your feet up. But there’s one last thing you need to do—and quickly: send out your post-event survey. 

How to make a post-event survey:

Post-event surveys are your best chance to get metrics for how your event did overall, prove ROI, and get insights for the next time around.

Post-event surveys tend to be a blend of structured questions and free space for attendees to share anything that’s top of mind. You’ll want to shape your post-event survey around your hunches about what went well and what went poorly, but also leave room for wildcard feedback, which can.also be the most valuable.

Event coordinators rarely get to sit back and actually experience their own event fully while it’s happening, which means they’re missing things.Post-event surveys highlight the wins and losses that you may have missed, and give you a last chance to re-engage with attendees.

Post-event surveys are often the last “touchpoint” that you’ll have with attendees, so you can also use the email as an opportunity to thank them for coming and encourage them to take another action (like joining a mailing list or connecting with other attendees on LinkedIn).

Examples of post-event survey questions:

We partnered with Eventbrite for an expert-crafted post-event survey template. Check it out here to use as a starting point and customize it to your needs.

  • Net Promoter Score® (NPS) question (how likely are you to recommend this event to a friend or colleague?
  • Did you think the sessions were too long, too short, or just right?
  • Rate the location on a scale of 1-5
  • Which speaker or session was the most valuable to you?
  • Would you have liked more networking time? 
  • What would you change to make this event even better next year?

Limit yourself to one or two open-ended questions, and make those questions something along the lines of, “What did you like most about the event?” and “What could be improved?” 

When to send post-event surveys:

It’s best to send your post-event surveys within one business day after the event. Attendees’ feelings get muddled. They’ll forget the details, let go of their initial instincts, and maybe even confuse your event with others they’ve attended. Capturing feedback sooner rather than later will get you clearer, more thorough results. 

If you don’t want to have to think about setting up the survey post-event, make your life easier by scheduling it in advance. 

You’re also going to want to follow up with people who don’t respond to your survey. (Hint: you can automate this too.) Give attendees a few days to collect themselves, then send a reminder or 2  over the next few weeks. Never send more than 3 reminders, and make sure to end the reminders after a month or so. Any data that you receive that late in the game won’t be helpful anyway. 

What to do with your results:

The main reason that people use post-event surveys is to track success over time. Benchmark your results against your previous events to track growth and to see how aspects of your event change over time. Consistently use a simple NPS question in each survey to see how attendee sentiment changes.

Celebrate feedback—the good and the bad

Honest attendee feedback is the best gift an event marketer could ask for, if you put it into action. It’s always a learning experience. Even if all your feedback isn’t flawless off the bat, it’s still an opportunity to innovate and grow. 

Event planning is incredibly demanding, volatile, and important work. Give yourself the resources to learn as you go—including feedback tools—and be empathetic with yourself as you work out the kinks. It’s always a learning experience. 

Ready to get feedback on your event?