Events and promotions are an important part of what make your downtown a destination. However, it is important that event hosts have a regular process for reviewing what went well and what could be improved. An event is not successful just because it happens. Some events are memorable and will draw people, while others might not—and this is ok. Evaluation can tell you whether an event was successful according to your goals, and can help you decide if it’s appropriate to hold the same event again, make some tweaks, or decline to offer it again and free up time for other, more effective initiatives.
Events can serve a variety of purposes, but still need to be updated to maximize the return on investment of time and effort involved. Some questions you might ask include:
- What were the goals, and were they achieved?
- Did the event break even or come close, even when accounting for staff and volunteer time?
- How did visitors, merchants, vendors and other stakeholders feel about the event? What suggestions do they have to make it better?
Answering these questions requires information on numbers (attendance, revenues) and perceptions (visitor experience). While it can be intimidating to ask visitors for input, their perspectives are incredibly valuable, and even if negative, feedback to the planning team is preferred to unfiltered thoughts shared over social media. It is important to have some way of gauging event success to make the next event even better, and to ensure the lessons of the event are kept in mind when planning begins for the following year.
Best practices for event evaluation start with launching evaluation efforts early. Event apps (such as Eventbrite) give you the ability to engage with your customers while also collecting demographic and other information about your audience. People can send their concerns and questions through these apps as well, making it easier for both the customer and for you as the organizer. In addition to these digital tools, you can set up information areas at the event to encourage people to share their ideas and experiences with staff immediately while still at the event. In addition, it is important to use smart event evaluation forms/surveys and ask the right questions. Smart evaluation forms/surveys include questionnaires and surveys that ask the biggest questions you need answers to or feedback on in order to continuously improve your event. At a minimum, key steps to follow include monitoring counts (attendance and sales), conducting a post-event surveys for visitors, conducting interviews with all stakeholders and gathering feedback.
Interviews, surveys, counts, fun facts
Interviews, surveys and counts are the top three activities to help collect data and effectively evaluate your event. Collecting this data also helps create visitor and vendor profiles that can be used for future event planning and continued relationship building. Interviews provide uniquely valuable feedback since they allow people to answer open-ended questions in a free-form fashion instead of just selecting multiple-choice responses. Interviews can be done randomly throughout the event by engaging visitors and vendors. Surveys are equally important to collect valuable data on event performance from the perspective of vendors, sponsors and area businesses. In addition to interviews and surveys, you should have a system set up to count attendees and sales. You can also collect “fun facts” by counting things like how many garbage bags were used, how many kegs were emptied and how many ears of corn were eaten. The fun facts are a great way to engage visitors for future years, since people tend to be intrigued by these facts and they can also demonstrate to potential attendees what sets the event apart from others.
Answering your key questions
Once you have collected your data through surveys, counts and interviews, you have what you need to answer those key questions. First, did you achieve your goals? Monetary goals can be evaluated based on expense and profit information—don’t forget to assign a value to in-kind contributions, and take into account staff/volunteer time as well. Attendance goals can be evaluated based on the counts collected. If your goal was to draw a broader mix of demographics, or increase attendance of a specific group, this can be evaluated using the answers from interviews and surveys, and/or registration and social media engagement. How did customers, vendors and businesses feel about the event? This question can be answered from your surveys and interviews. In addition to these specific metrics that should be evaluated for every event, you will have other ideas of what went well and what didn’t from the feedback you received throughout the event. Make a list of ideas and potential changes for next year now while the information is still fresh in your mind.