Feelback not feedback. How events of the future will be judged | wtv.

March 23, 2022

By Charlie Thompson

After an event has ended, when speakers and attendees have gone back to their day jobs, event organisers and the event companies begin the task of gathering feedback in earnest.

But working out if a virtual, in-person or hybrid event was delivered well and attendees were satisfied with the outcome is far from clearcut. It’s possible for an event to be enjoyed by participants but plagued with technical issues. ‘Success’ very much depends on your viewpoint.

The challenge for enterprises is working out how to bridge these two perspectives. But erroneous processes based on tick box procedures often struggle to net results that can truly improve events.

After Action Reviews are often stymied by less than meaningful discussions between both parties about what went right, what went wrong and what to do better next time. And where event organisers could also use net promoter scores to ask attendees how likely they were to refer the event to people they know, often a far too granular approach to questioning fails to yield insights that could impact future results.

Amazingly, even in this day and age when most businesses are swimming in data and many are struggling to interpret it, in some organisations, determining if an event is a success or not can come down to the personal opinion of one person at the top.

For event organisers who spend much of their working hours in crisis mode and often don’t use the same event delivery company on an ongoing basis, uncovering how customers felt about the event they attended is often less of a priority than the need for efficiency and standardisation. This is especially true in the commoditised world of event software solutions where their feedback can end up relegated to a product roadmap for fixing at some point in the future.

All this creates a picture of a feedback process that’s broken. But thankfully that may not actually matter, because the kind of events we will be planning and organising in the future are likely to be assessed far more for their emotional impact than anything else.

The change is being brought about by a combination of factors ranging from governments’ net zero targets and Environmental, Social and Governance goals to staff shortages and volatile variant outbreaks. Attendees might be rushing back into in-person events right now (Hilton Worldwide Holdings posted August and September revenue per room figures that were 80% of 2019), but the shiny appeal of staying in huge conference hotels may have faded for good.

With companies needing to prove how they’re achieving their sustainability targets, whether that’s through biofuels, effective carbon offsetting, hybrid transport or other means, flying employees around the world for a conference no longer gels with many enterprises’ ESG targets. Hotels that boast about their 25,000 square feet ballrooms are in serious danger of appearing tone deaf.

Attendees are now more likely to contextualise ‘satisfaction’ against climate damage and what they read in the news. If they have to attend an in-person, physical event their ‘satisfaction’ is potentially going to be low. It might have been higher if they didn’t need to fly from London to Houston for example, and were instead able to attend a virtual event with their colleagues from a meeting room near their home.

Apart from climate issues, many of us have been working from home for almost two years now and generally speaking, we like it. Enterprises and employees alike have embraced the flexibility. Some of us have moved to new locations, extended our holidays because we don’t have to physically be in the office, and gained a more balanced perspective about work and what we’re willing, and not so willing to do. Is travelling for work, dealing with jetlag, and staying in a conference centre away from our families really that exciting? Where we settle on that is still being determined.

If you’ve had the opportunity to experience the metaverse, you’ll know that it’s completely different and non-comparable to being passively engaged at an in-person event, held in a conference hotel. As Jo Diss, wtv.’s head of events describes in this article about the emergence of extended reality events, XR is already transforming events and this will only increase in the future.

With the metaverse still very much in its infancy and sustainability becoming an increasingly important part of attendee satisfaction, event organisers now have an opportunity to think about the design of their future event, so they can drive the kind of attendee satisfaction they’re looking for. They’ll need to set aside the processes that are unfit for purpose and actually ask attendees how the experience made them feel. It might sound like La La Land lingo for ‘speaking your truth’, but it’s likely to be a metric that matters for events of the future.

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