Debriefing an event is one of the most important duties professional event planners and event management teams undertake. An event debrief is a meeting that takes place with the event planning team after an event has finished. The event itself gets deconstructed and analyzed through group discussion. Leaders and staff review the event from start to finish, often following an event debrief template. The team discusses what worked at the event, what didn’t, and works together to identify opportunities for improvement.
In this post, we take a deep dive into event debriefs. We discuss why debriefing plays such a significant role in event success and provide tips that help planners host the most effective debriefs possible. We walk you through the entire process, from preparation to follow-up, and show you how an event debrief template can improve the quality of your post-event team meetings. Explore debriefing objectives, sample questions, template examples, and more as you uncover the power of event debriefing data.
How using an event debrief template fosters improvement
Why are event debriefs important?
Debriefs provide event planners at every level an opportunity to improve future events. Even if, from your perspective, an event seems to go off without a hitch, measuring hiring client and attendee satisfaction is still vitally important. Additionally, events that end successfully may have had to overcome hiccups or mistakes along the way.
An event debrief template functions as the basis for a comprehensive event report. In addition to identifying mistakes, setbacks, and improvement opportunities, conducting event debriefs also provides event planners an opportunity to:
- Gather event attendee feedback
- Encourage honest team feedback
- Improve attendee satisfaction scores
- Analyze valuable event data
- Determine how much profit the event produced
- Optimize the planning process for future events
- Develop vendor, supplier, sponsor, and venue relationships
- Identify team training opportunities
- Encourage staff career growth
Lead event planners and managers who do not take the time to discuss past events with their team may miss out on valuable opportunities to improve future events. Deconstructing events with the aid of valuable hindsight can help teams create a better guest experience or increase event attendance. In addition, it provides leaders a chance to gauge the satisfaction of team members and event staff.
What topics are covered during an event debriefing?
Depending on the way your event management team operates, a few specific event debriefing details may vary from one event planning team to another, but the same general information should be discussed in each event debriefing. In a debriefing, event planning teams review the original goals, objectives, and budget guidelines for the event. Before the team begins breaking down finer event details, the team discusses various big-picture details, such as:
- Did your team achieve all of your event goals?
- Did you stay within the preset budget?
- Did you underinvest or overspend in certain areas?
- Did you meet registration guidelines?
- Did event attendance reach anticipated levels?
During an event debrief, planners assess the satisfaction levels of event attendees and clients alike. The team will also discuss the efficiency and success of each stage of the event.
Beginning with the planning process, review key components and event functions, encouraging the team to provide input and ask questions along the way. Key event functions discussed during debriefings include:
- Planning and preparing for the event
- Event marketing efforts (i.e., registration, online campaigns, social media)
- Venue selection, pricing, and satisfaction
- Guest arrival (check-in) and departure procedures
- Design elements (e.g., décor, layout, lighting, signage)
- A/V and tech elements (e.g., slideshows, projections, live-streaming)
- Speakers, hosts, and entertainment
- Staff performance and satisfaction
- Food and beverage service/catering
- Guest service/guest management
Create your event debrief template with these factors in mind. Make you’re your template covers all of the boxes you want to check during your post-event team meeting. Go through each section of the template one by one. Ask team members to share any observations they had about key event functions, provide any notes you have, answer questions, and engage in fruitful team discussion.
Depending on the size and scale of the event, you may have a considerable number of topics to cover during your team debriefings. Try to spend 5-10 minutes discussing each category to keep the total meeting length between 1-2 hours.
Who should attend event debriefings?
Invite all of the key players who had a hand in planning, executing, and hosting the event to attend the event debriefing. Each team member has a unique view of events, as they oversee various parts of the process, and leaders need to hear different perspectives. If you’re the only person who worked on an event, then there’s no need to invite anyone else, but if you collaborated with a team, invite all of the core participants.
Small teams and organizations may choose to invite the entire staff to an event debrief, welcoming feedback from every single team member who worked on the event. Larger teams, however, may not have the time or space required for all-staff debriefs. Instead, lead planners invite a representative or manager from each department to attend the debrief. The event catering manager, for example, can attend the briefing on behalf of their team. As a representative of their staff, managers provide feedback from their staff, note any issues their team experienced during the event, ask questions, recognize other team members, and identify potential areas of improvement.
How do planners prepare for event debriefings?
To host the most successful and helpful event debrief meetings possible, start preparing for the meeting during the actual event. Follow these steps to set your team up for event debriefing success.
1. Make comment cards or brief feedback surveys available at the event
Set up a booth (or booths) where event attendees feel safe and encouraged to provide feedback while the event is taking place. At smaller events, set up stations near the exit area where guests can quickly leave their comments and provide honest feedback while the experience is fresh in their minds. To get live feedback at larger events, such as a tradeshow or conference, consider setting up small displays with comment cards or brief surveys in break rooms, dining spaces, or casual seating areas.
2. Make observations and take notes during the event
Create an event debrief template that you can use to log essential information, note observations, and track data during a live event. At the top of the preparation template, designate space for you to log main event details, such as:
- Name of event
- Date of event
- Event location
- Event roles and responsibilities
Track the number of event attendees as well as audience demographics including age, gender, profession, and any other audience observations that could be helpful. Pay close attention during the live event, and record the following information in your preparatory template:
- Did the number of attendees meet, exceed, or fall short of expectations?
- Did attendee numbers influence event registration, check-in, catering, or available seating?
- Did you schedule an appropriate amount of event staff to assist guests and execute the event properly?
- Did the event follow the pre-set agenda?
- Were session and speech times respected?
- What engaged audience members most?
- Did attendees participate throughout the event?
- Were there moments that lagged or where the audience stopped paying attention?
3. Email attendee satisfaction surveys after the event
After a live event concludes, email guests a post-event evaluation survey to gather valuable information and feedback. The data that you gather from guest feedback will be an invaluable part of the post-event debriefing process with your team. In the post-event survey, ask event attendees a variety of questions, such as:
- How satisfactory was your overall experience at this event?
- Did the event achieve its objective? Why or why not?
- Would you recommend this event to a friend?
- Were you satisfied with the event sessions? Why or why not?
- Where did you learn about the event? Where did you register?
- What confirmed your decision to attend the event?
- What part of the event did you like the most?
- Which was your least favorite part of the event?
- What would you like to see at future events like this one?
Invite guests to tell you about what they liked and what they didn’t. Negative feedback may sting a little, but it is a vital part of improving as an event planner, evolving as an organizer, and building a strong, cohesive event management team.
4. Invite team leaders to the debriefing and send an agenda
Create an event agenda for the debriefing before announcing the meeting. Outline key points you want to highlight during the meeting, such as signage, speakers, event setup, breakdown, catering, and so on. Outline major talking points ahead of time in a detailed debriefing agenda to keep the team—and the meeting—on track. Identify the most important components of the previous event and highlight any incidents that require further discussion.
When you send meeting invites, include the event debrief agenda. If you run a large team or will only be meeting with key leaders and department heads, include a copy of the event debrief template you’ll be using so that leaders can review the material ahead of time with their staff. If the catering manager will be attending, for example, request that they meet with their team ahead of time to discuss information outlined on the event debrief template. As a representative of their staff, the catering manager will provide team feedback, note areas of improvement, and ask any relevant questions.
How do you host an event debriefing meeting?
Follow these tips to ensure that your next event debriefing is well organized, efficient, and as helpful as possible.
- Delegate a meeting leader to moderate the discussion. You may be hosting the debriefing session yourself, but if not, assign that role and discuss it with the appointee ahead of time. The event debriefing leader will host the meeting, moderate the discussion, and keep the team on track.
- Review the objectives of the event debriefing. Remind the team of the appropriate conduct they should engage in during the debriefing. Address and emphasize your desire to receive constructive feedback. The point of debriefings is not to point fingers or assign blame; they are positive meetings that contribute to the success of the business and the growth of every team member. Welcome honest feedback from your team, but ensure that you’re prepared to put a quick stop to injurious behavior or hurtful commentary.
- Set the tone by starting with a round of “thank you’s.” Provide positive feedback from the client and highlight positive feedback from attendee surveys. Take time to recognize departments, leaders, and individual team members whose performance stood out during the event. Invite debriefing attendees to contribute, share positive feedback, and take part in staff appreciation.
- Utilize an event debrief template. Keep the meeting on track by following along with a comprehensive event debrief template. Review the key event data that you’ve gathered thus far including the number of attendees, how much money the event made, and so on. Then, host a roundtable discussion with your team reviewing each of the key event functions, one at a time (e.g., catering, registration, check-in, guest service). For each key function, ask the following questions:
- Did we achieve the goals of the function?
- What worked well? What went right?
- What mistakes were made? What went wrong?
- Did the key function perform better during this event than in previous events? Why or why not?
- What did we improve on from the last event?
- What can we do better at the next event?
- Take notes to create a summary. Keep track of notes, feedback, and future objectives highlighted in each event debriefing. Review outstanding items from previous events before the end of each team meeting. If you decided to try a new check-in procedure, for example, as a result of feedback from previous debriefings, review how well the new procedure worked. Discuss whether or not adjustments were effective, and determine if additional changes need to be made.
How do you use event debriefing data effectively?
After the debriefing, gather, combine, and create a report detailing all of the relevant data you received. Store a summary of the event where it is easily accessible to team members, managers, and company leaders. Use the gathered data to draft and apply targeted action plans used to improve future event success. At your next pre-event meeting, discuss action items with your team and remind them of the opportunities identified during the last briefing. Set the team up for success by reminding staff of newly implemented procedures before your next event.
Once a quarter, review completed event debrief templates to identify repeat issues and event trends. Look at the data, and ask yourself important questions, such as:
- Which event types challenge us the most?
- Which notes or comments regularly come up in debriefings?
- How is the team approaching implementing changes?
- Which action plans have been implemented and which have not?
- What changes have resulted in the most success?
As your event planning and management style evolves, update your go-to event debrief template. Expand areas that your team tends to focus on more, add discussion questions, live event data points, or other items you’ve identified to be beneficial for the team.
As your wrap up your event debrief and analysis, there are a few things you should keep in mind, like:
- No event is perfect, and there will always be room to grow
- Regularly conducting event debriefing meetings using a comprehensive event debrief template can help event planning teams continuously improve their productions, month after month, and year after year
- Teams who evolve and improve can grow their reputation, expand their client list, and keep their event calendar full
Use an event debrief template at your next team meeting!
Success in event planning often hinges on the trust, goodwill, and support that exists within the team itself. For an event planning team to operate effectively, members of the team must be able to trust, support, and count on one another.
Up next, we take a look at icebreaker activities and discuss how they can promote team-building and reduce team tension. Discover why kicking off your next event debrief with a fun meeting icebreaker could help make the meeting more effective in our guide to easing tension and strengthening team spirit.