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How to measure the ROI of your events

On paper, the term “return on investment” sounds simple. What could be so difficult about applying that same concept to cost versus return for events?

And why measuring event ROI is important in the first place...

On paper, the term “return on investment” sounds extremely simple. After all, we all learned how to do ratios back in grade school—what could be so difficult about applying that same concept to cost versus return?

Of course, as any business owner who takes numbers seriously already understands, calculating ROI accurately presents quite a challenge. Specifically, how does one measure the “return” part of the equation? (Measuring cost is usually pretty straightforward.)

This is a complicated question for a number of reasons—not least of which is the fact that the objectives of different investments can vary quite drastically. However, it is possible to calculate ROI in a way that is both accurate and helpful. Here are a few simple steps that can help you accomplish exactly that.

Before the event, set your SMART goals

Set SMART goals. You’re never going to know what you’ve accomplished if you don’t know what to look for. Think about what you want to accomplish with your event. Goals should be SMART - specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound.

Understand your audience. Think about the size of your event. How many people can you handle? What kinds of audience are you anticipating? One that is strictly made of up of potential customers and/or clients? One that includes the press? One that includes other businesses and important players in the industry? The answer to these questions will help you flesh out a clearer vision of your objectives.

Establish a budget. Put in place costs, expectation and controls. Ensure that you gather all relevant costs for production, shipping, travel and incidentals.

In short: know exactly what you are getting into, and exactly what you aim to accomplish. If you don’t take this step beforehand, it will be very difficult to judge whether or not your event was a success!

Taking advantage of attendee engagement, while still on-site

We get it—there will probably be a million things to worry about during your event. However, if you take a couple of simple steps over the course of your event, you will be able to evaluate your event much more effectively. A few of the best recommendations we have to offer include:

Survey attendees. Why not find out exactly what your attendees think? You will be surprised at how many people are willing to take a bit of their time in order to provide thoughtful advice and critiques. These surveys can be offered online via various smartphone apps, or “the old fashioned way” with a simple pen and paper. Either way, we recommend encouraging participants to fill out surveys while the event is still going on—not afterwards—in order to maximize the number of responses.

Track attendees. If you’re serious about analyzing and understanding the ROI of your event, there’s no doubt that you plan to keep track of overall attendance. But have you considered tracking attendance to specific functions? This can really help you understand which aspects of your event provided the most ROI. If a popular, well-paid speaker attracts every single attendee to his speech, then you’ll know that he provided a good ROI on his speaking fees. On the other hand, if only three people show up to this speech, you’ll know that you would have been much better off spending that money elsewhere.

Event apps. In an effort to encourage audience participation while also opening up a new avenue for understanding ROI, many innovative event planners are now utilizing event apps. Event apps offer useful and fun features like interactive agendas, session check-in, social networking and games. Examples include competitions that gauge who can add the most LinkedIn contacts, who can make the most popular social media post regarding the event, etc. Besides offering the obvious benefit of social media promotion, these games allow event organizers to gauge audience involvement.

Taking stock after the event

Once the event is over, it’s time to analyze the data! Here are a few important pointers. Monitor social media and support channels. The social and support channel often reveal the true impact of your events. Thanks to the many social media data tools that are readily available, the web can actually offer information that is much more objective than you might have guessed. Pay attention to your overall mentions before and then immediately after the event, for example!

Evaluate the data you have. With time, you will be able to see how your sales were impacted by the event, but this is obviously not the only way in which hosting an event can benefit you right away. Surveys, social media, coupon redemptions and website visits all play a role. Pay close attention to your number of potential landing page visitors, leads and contacts, for example, in order to better understand the impact of your event.

Revisit your goals for and compare your results. By evaluating your event results with those goals in mind, you will be able to truly understand the impact and results of the ROI of your event, as well as learn how you can do better next time. So few event marketers and planners take the time to debrief and deep dive on post-event results, and yet post-event analysis is the best source of learning and improvement.

Improving ROI for your next event

Understanding the ROI of your events is crucially important for planning the next ones. Understanding ROI isn’t about the past; it’s about the future. When it comes time to plan your next event, the data and insights that you gather regarding your previous events will help you make important decisions about where to spend your money, time and effort to deliver the best results. Whether you're a marketer or event organizer, every event can improve with better ROI!