Guide to Event Debrief: How to Improve Your Event and Your Team's Performance

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Published on
November 12, 2018

After hosting a successful event, it’s tempting to take some time off or dive straight into the next one. But before you push forward, it’s critical that you review your previous event with an event debrief.An event debrief is a meeting with your team where you carefully deconstruct and analyze a previous event. This is where you put everything on the table and ask, “How did we do?” A thorough and honest event debrief will help you identify what went right, what went wrong, and (often the biggest category) what could be better next time. Give your team a few days to recover from the event, then schedule a one to 1.5-hour event debrief meeting to review your performance. If you don’t take the time to review your events, you may miss important opportunities to correct mistakes and make improvements. How do you host an event debrief?

Step 1: Invite the Important People

If you work alone, you can skip this step, but if you use a team, it’s important to host your event debrief with your key players.If you use a small team, it’s fine to invite everyone. No matter how small of a role, they may have something significant to add to your debrief that will positively impact the next event. If you use a large team, however, it’s best to only invite the leaders, as long as each key function of your event is represented. For instance, you’ll want the catering manager present, but you shouldn’t invite his team of 30. Too many people often make conversation difficult, and not all of them will have anything useful to add. Instruct your leaders to gather any relevant feedback from their teams before the event debrief.

Step 2: Foster a Comfortable Environment

Event debrief

Whenever you sit down to evaluate the performance of anything, there’s always the possibility of wounded egos and flared tempers. Create a relaxed, positive environment where people are comfortable sharing their thoughts, even if they have to criticize their own performance or the performances of their colleagues.It helps to give your team the option to submit their comments anonymously after the event debrief, though it’s best to encourage them to speak openly so their thoughts can be discussed with the group.Try to keep everything constructive. If one person on your team blames someone else, change the conversation and tone to what the group can do better next time. Don’t harp on one person’s poor performance. (If you need to deal with an individual’s problem, do it privately at another time.) The debrief is not an opportunity to point fingers or blame. As the leader, it’s your job to set the tone so the event debrief doesn’t erode into a group argument. One way to create a comfortable atmosphere is to start off with a round of thank-you’s. Thank them as a group and mention people by name whose performance was especially great.

Step 3: Set an Agenda/Itinerary

You don’t have to discuss every minute of your event, but it’s important to hit the key functions: Registration, catering, setup, speakers/entertainment, signage/decor, guest relations, etc. Set aside a small block of time for each function to make sure you address it as a group. If you want to raise any specific feedback or make your own comments, jot those notes down as well so you don’t forget them. In fact, you may want to start these notes during the event whenever you see something worth discussing during the event debrief. Furthermore, it’s important to designate someone to lead the discussion, so the conversation isn’t chaos. That will probably be you, but if it’s not, delegate someone to follow the agenda.

Step 4: Start with Your Objectives and Summary

Event debrief

Before you start discussing each event function, quickly go through your goals and objectives. Having your event debrief discussion in the context of what you wanted to achieve will help you and your team generate the best feedback. It’s also a good time to review your action items from your last event debrief. You might say, “At our last debrief, we said we wanted to expedite the flow of people at choke points and reduce setup time for speakers. Let’s keep those points in mind as we discuss.” Next, dive into a summary of the event. Give them hard data, such as the number of guests, total funds generated, or other pertinent details. Go over any problems or challenges you came across and why they happened.

Step 5: Go Through Each Key Function

Next, wade into your event debrief by going through each key function of your event and asking your team critical questions. Key functions include…

For each function, ask yourself at least these questions:

  1. Did we meet the function’s objective?
  2. Did we perform better than last time? If so, how? If not, why?
  3. What went right?
  4. What went wrong?
  5. What will we do better next time?

That last question is the most important. Use it to create action items for your next event. For instance, if you feel that guests should have known their way around the space better, create an action item to develop clearer event signage. As you talk, make sure everyone on your team has the opportunity to speak, even if they weren’t directly involved in that function. Your catering manager may not know much about how the registration desk works, but he/she could still have unique and impactful feedback.A word of caution: You’ll find it tempting during this discussion to blame external forces for your problems. For example, if the meal was served late, you might be satisfied to blame the caterer’s tardiness to the event site. Avoid this at all costs. Even though some challenges might not be your fault, still ask yourself and your team how you can prevent them in the future.

Step 6: Send out an Event Debrief Survey

Event debrief

An event debrief survey is a questionnaire that asks the same questions you would discuss at the meeting. It’s for people who couldn’t attend the meeting or weren’t invited. You might send it to non-leadership people who work on your events, outsourced vendors (caterers, AV technicians, florists, etc.), and even your attendees.Truthfully, your guests are the best source of feedback regarding your event. They won’t have behind-the-scenes information like your team, but they can still provide a unique perspective. After all, you host events for your guests, so their feedback is invaluable. You can get your guests’ feedback in three ways:

  1. Make your event debrief survey available during the event. At the very least, setup a box or booth where they can leave their comments. This way you get their feedback when it’s fresh in their mind.
  2. Email them the event debrief survey a few days after the event. This is a great addition to your thank you email. Host the survey as a form on your website so they can fill it out quickly. (If you ask them to print and mail back, no one will do it.)
  3. Solicit feedback through your event app. With a Supervent custom event app, you can quickly create and send a survey to your guests.

Step 7: Use the Data from Your Event Debrief

This final step is the most important. Once you’ve collected data from your event debrief meeting and/or survey, it’s important to actuallyuse it.Don’t let that valuable information get lost in a file somewhere. Review it a few times to pack that information into your head. Consider it as you plan and set up your next event. To ensure this happens, document your notes and action items somewhere your team can access at any time. Most importantly, bring up your action items (your answers to the question “What will we do better next time?”) during your pre-event meetings with your team. Remind them of what you all discussed and how you’ll make the next event better.

Host an Event Debrief After Every Event

The event debrief is an important part of the event planning and hosting process. It’s an opportunity to collect feedback from your team to improve your next event. If you follow the steps we’ve outlined, you’ll host an effective event debrief that helps you and your team grow.

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