by Jennifer Hawkins, DoubleDutch | February 23, 2015
You've been preparing for this event for months. The venue is ready, your very respected speaker has arrived early, and you have every painstaking detail in place. The doors open, the people flurry in, you talk to some people you recognize from past events, and they seem pleased. Attendance is definitely up from last year. So, was your event a success?

The sad truth is, people will give you great feedback about your event while it's happening, whether they liked it or not. (They want to be nice!) And while high attendance means you did a better job at marketing the event, it doesn't necessarily mean the event itself was a hit.  

High attendance and kind anecdotes are not steel-proof ways to measure event success. If your boss asks you to prove that your event spend was worth it, how do you respond?

This challenge of "proving" event success is faced by every event professional or meeting planner, whether they host a small internal company sales kickoff or a mega-event with 100,000 attendees. 

At DoubleDutch, we have faced many of these same questions and experienced similar struggles with our own events. We realized that there are, in fact, ways to "measure" event success, but it's important to put the right tools for your event in place from the start. While strategies may vary from event to event, here are some tried and true tips that have helped us measure and demonstrate event effectiveness:

1. Identify your goals in advance.
 Before your event begins, identify your goals. This part isn't so hard. Education, revenue, brand visibility, getting people energized and excited -- these are all potential event goals that you might be measuring. Many event planners say event success is determined by "softer" parameters like networking, content retention, and overall experience. While identifying these goals is fairly straightforward, measuring them -- especially "soft" goals -- can pose more of a challenge. 

2. Put measurement tools in place.
As an event app company, we at DoubleDutch love solving problems with technology, though there are certainly other non-tech tools as well. Eventbrite or Marketo, for example, are effective for managing and promoting registration (we've used both). Beacons (location-based technology) are fantastic for delivering timely, localized messages. Did the coffee bars deliver? Place beacons at every bar and when people come to get a cup of joe, hit them with a survey and you will know the answer.

We also use the same mobile event app our clients use to measure attendee sentiment, deploy live polling, and launch session-based surveys. Was that keynote speaker worth the price tag? If you have an audience response system in place, you can find out. On the DoubleDutch platform, for example, you can also use other metrics (in addition to overt response to polls and surveys) to ascertain session popularity. Factors such as the number bookmarks, mentions, views, or session ratings are all great complements to the direct feedback. For the softer metrics (like "attendee happiness"), we use the app activity feed to create community, get hashtags trending, and share viral photos.

3. Listen to what the data means.
As you gather all of this great information, it's important to listen to your data and make changes as necessary. For example, there might be a bottleneck of people around the session because people didn't realize there was another door. Or maybe a speaker canceled last minute. With the right event instrumentation, you should have a two-way communication tool that allows you to save the day immediately and react with agility. 

Send a push notification to everyone's phones to let them know where the other door is located. Update the digital agenda immediately, and then pin a message to the top of their app feed alerting them of the scheduling change. While there are certain lessons that can only be learned for next time around, there are many small (but important) things that can be impacted during the event. This ability to shape the outcome of your event -- as it happens -- is what makes the difference between a good and great event.

With the right tools in place, event professionals can capture and measure the right data to help determine whether an event was successful. This provides you with unprecedented and valuable lessons about your event performance. It also helps you answer that elusive question, "How did the event go?" and "Is it worth doing again?"

Jennifer Hawkins leads the marketing department at DoubleDutch, a company that is embracing mobile and social to transform the event landscape. As the fourth member of the DoubleDutch team, she has spent the last three years building a provocative, unique brand in a characteristically conservative space. Previously she worked at Medpedia, a website designed to create collaborative, transparent health information.