Using pre-event research

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

We’ve all come across a survey in a news article or elsewhere which relates to an upcoming event. Whether the launch of a new brand or service or an international conference, pre-event research can be a great way of garnering press coverage and generating interest in an upcoming event. But it also has other uses: depending on the type of research you’re prepared to carry out, pre-event research can be an useful tool for refining and targeting the content of your event to ensure the day runs smoothly. It’s a real asset for event planners who are willing to devote time and resources to it.

How can I set up a survey?

There are plenty of online tools available to help with setting up surveys. SurveyMonkey is a web-based tool which allows you to develop branded and customised survey pages with required questions, response validation mechanisms and a number of other functions. There are a number of similar products on the markets as well, including SurveyGizmo and SmartSurvey.

When it comes to getting attendees to answer your questions, it’s a great idea to choose software that integrates seamlessly in your online event registration system. That way data can be shared between the two and attendees will be able to easily follow links to the survey after booking their place.

The other popular alternative is a simple poll on your event website. This is a quick way of getting responses, but it does have pitfalls. For example, because it will probably have to appear in a sidebar on the main page, the questions and responses will have to be very short and it will be difficult to get more detail.

Questions and answers

Surveys are a great way of gathering the opinions of lots of respondents in a single format, which is relatively easy to collate and study. But the type of questions you ask will probably depend on the information you’re looking to receive.

Broadly speaking, there will be two types of question you choose to ask your registrants: questions about the day itself, and those related to the broad topic of the event. In either case, there’s a balance to be struck between needing data that is relatively easy to analyse and getting responses that fully reflect the opinions of your delegates.

Where you need detailed responses, ask open questions which invite longer responses, such as “How have you noticed buyer habits changing?” If, however, a simple yes or no will do for your purposes, opt for a closed question which invites such an answer - “Are buyer habits changing?"

Often the answer is somewhere between these two extremes. For example, there could be a series of discrete options ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”, or you may choose to provide a list of options as well as a text box where respondents can choose to give further details as necessary.

Planning guidance

The questions you ask can be invaluable in helping to plan both this event and future events. In the first instance, you can ask about delegates’ preferences for the event itself - timings, how frequent breaks should be, how useful slideshows and audio-visual material can be. But asking delegates about their opinions on specific topics can also be useful to give speakers an idea of the audience they are addressing.

It may be that some speakers have to be more persuasive than others, and it’s easier to speak to an audience whom you already know are on your side. This doesn’t mean influencing speakers to completely change their point of view - it’s just about making sure they know what’s ahead of them when they take to the microphone.

All of this is great for making sure that you’re targeting the content of your event effectively, as well as structuring the day so that it suits the routines of a majority of attendees.

Promoting your event

Of course nobody is interested in whether your attendees prefer 15 or 20 minute breaks, but gathering opinions on subjects related to your event can be a significant part of your event marketing strategy. This kind of research can be used to attract outside interest through press coverage and external communications, but is also important as a means of keeping delegates engaged in the run-up to the event.

Once you’ve collated and analysed the responses, consider putting together a press release about the findings and including information about your event. By placing this on your own website and even getting it out to any of the press release aggregators available online, you can make your findings, and therefore your event, much more visible to news writers who may share the research elsewhere.

In addition, sending the research out to attendees by email before the event is a great way to get them thinking about the topic. This will help to keep them engaged and encourage them to prepare, meaning that when delegates arrive they may be more likely to take part in valuable, productive discussions.

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