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April 16, 2008

WHAT DELEGATES WANT: Are you delivering?

A new report, Inside the Mind of the Delegate, launched recently by Crystal Interactive, provides event organisers with key insight into delegates’ likes and dislikes about conferences and meetings. Among other issues, the main demands were less cramming of information, more depth of subject matter and more involvement and interactivity during the event.

In producing the report, Crystal Interactive, which specialises in facilitating and building interactivity into events, has used its expertise to draw together and analyse the feedback of almost 5,000 delegates who collectively have attended 51 events since January 2006.


Crystal Interactive delves into the unkown



Uniquely, the feedback is based on open ended questions – what delegates liked and what they would do differently – in three critical event areas: organisation, content and interaction. These questions were posed immediately after events and gave the respondents free reign to say anything they liked. This created thousands of comments, which Crystal Interactive has analysed to identify common issues and event problems.

“The thousands of people questioned had the opportunity to say absolutely anything at all about the event they had just attended,” explains Crystal Interactive director Chris Elmitt and author of the study. “We weren’t asking them to rate the food or quality of speakers. We gave them an opportunity to really express what was uppermost in their mind when reviewing the event. As a result we had an incredibly valuable bank of feedback to analyse and draw lessons from.”

The lessons detailed in the report include:

Avoid cramming in content
– Almost 24% of the organisational criticisms expressed by the delegates Crystal Interactive polled centre on timing issues. “The main fault appears to be that organisers are trying to pack too much in,” said Elmitt. “Content-cramming puts a squeeze on networking, which is far more important to the delegates questioned than organisers appreciate.”

Make sure workshops work
– Workshops are a practical way for attendees to mix with others in informal groups, yet 28% of criticisms revealed by the report centre on them. “The main problem is that workshops often lack focus, aren’t given enough time or seem to produce meaningless output,” says Elmitt.

Cut some slack – Delegates told Crystal Interactive that they want more slack time built into agendas, so that important issues unearthed at a conference can be further discussed. “Create zones in lounge areas where further discussion can be captured/facilitated during coffee breaks mid-event,” advises Elmitt. “If this is not possible, improve the follow up, which many feel is negligible, so that the discussion can continue after the event.”

Make sure delegates are prepared – Feedback from delegates suggest that many feel unprepared for the events they attend, yet this is vital to the success of any meeting or conference. “Circulate timings, agendas, topics and delegate lists – so people can get more out of their experience,” Elmitt suggests.

Don’t travel for the sake of it – Although companies these days are looking for unusual and special venues to impress delegates and create more of an impact, it was clear from Crystal Interactive’s results that unnecessary travel impresses no one. So unless the venue complements the event, is appropriate and adds value to the overall experience, avoid taking delegates miles from home. This is also particularly relevant at a time when travel for events is coming under increasing scrutiny for environmental reasons.

Build in focus and depth – Similar to cramming, delegates polled preferred to cover a subject in depth than skirt over a number of issues. “Don’t try to have something for everyone and become shallow as a result,” says Elmitt. “Allow content to be focused and deep – this works far better than broad agendas.”

Shape content in real time – Some 42% of content criticisms were because delegates would have preferred the conference they attended to focus on topics they wanted t to cover rather than those that were chosen by the organisers. “Many event planners may carry out broad research exploring areas potential delegates are interested in, but this is too blunt an approach to guarantee that the content works for those who turn up on the day,” says Elmitt. “To remedy this, organisers should gather delegate views at the event and allow this to inform and shape the speaker slots in real time. This kind of event modification takes courage and speaker dexterity, but delivers a far better event experience.”

Encourage interactivity – Of the delegates surveyed, 25% spontaneously said they wanted an active not passive role in events, with 10% saying they also want far more question-and-answer time. “Having build interactivity into events for many companies, including Unilever, Defra, London Underground and Vodafone, and seen the benefits first hand, I am not at all surprised by these findings,” says Elmitt.

The real power of Crystal Interactive’s research is the fact at these findings are the results of impromptu thoughts of thousands of delegates. Having one in 10 saying involve us give us a far better Q&A experience and a quarter requesting more involvement, when they could have said anything at all is very significant.

“Delegates are saying loud and clear that they want the agenda space and opportunity to really get value out of an event – be it a conference or a meeting,” says Elmitt. “We can obviously provide that, but what’s more fundamentally required is a real act of faith by event organisers, to see delegates as a group to be interacted with and listened to rather than seeing them as a passive audience.”

Look out for the Chris Elmitt video interview coming soon on MEETINGS:review, and for further details and to download a full copy of the report, click here

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