Do you review event evaluations like a Chinese censor?

101807127_2f67f9f623_ofascinating piece of research published in Science concludes that the Chinese government allows people to say whatever they like about the state, its leaders, or their policies—except for posts with collective action potential, which are far more likely to be censored.

Which reminds me of the meetings industry’s common response to event evaluations.

I often wonder whether event surveys are actually read by organizers. And, if they are read, are they acted upon? Given the same old event designs I see repeated year after year, my experience is that most changes stemming from attendee feedback concentrate on logistical improvements or cosmetic restyling: changes that rarely get to core dissatisfactions experienced by many attendees.

This is why the bar is so low for event expectations—the majority of attendees assume that an event can’t be made much better than what they routinely experience. Ask attendees what they consider to be a worthwhile meeting and you’ll frequently hear that they’re satisfied if they “learn one useful thing or meet one useful person a day”. You may think that’s acceptable; I know we can do much better.

Can we significantly improve our events through attendee feedback? Yes. Done right, event evaluations provide an incredible opportunity to build community around our events. Yet, invariably, this opportunity is squandered. Evaluations—either in the form of paper smile sheets or online surveys—get kidnapped, disappearing into the hands of the event organizers, never to see the light of day again.

When we routinely solicit comments about our meetings’ value and then ignore feedback that could fundamentally improve our events we are acting like Chinese censors. The minority of attendees who have experienced the value of participant-driven and participation-rich meeting designs—who know the value of small group work with peers and public evaluation during the event—expect something better from your meetings. If you don’t give it to them, they will stay away or go elsewhere.

A warning. They won’t be a minority forever.

Photo attribution: Flickr user charleshope