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How do you prevent nitpicky comments from clients at a post-event debrief meeting from overshadowing a successful event? Are there any best practices to running a debriefing?

What Should A Post-Event Debriefing Accomplish?

The post-event debriefing is a way for the planner and key stakeholders to discuss the event’s performance. Goals of the meeting include:

1. Evaluate whether event objectives were achieved, and if so, to what extent. If event goals are measurable, calculate and discuss the event’s R.O.I. (return on investment).
2. Discuss lessons learned in the planning process. What can be improved upon next time? What should be done differently?
3. Provide a roadmap for those who will work on the event in the future.

When to Hold a Post-Event Debrief

The client may want to talk right after the event concludes, but it’s a good idea to allow some time for the dust to settle. This helps produce a more accurate picture of what occurred, and provides enough time for:

  • Collecting feedback from attendees, sponsors, and other constituents.
  • Closing the event budget, which often takes time to collect final invoices from vendors, ensuring the financial snapshot of the event is accurate.
  • Allowing the emotional highs and lows of the event to calm down. You don’t want to overreact to either.

While there’s no exact formula on how long this takes, 2-4 weeks after the event is often enough.

How to Avoid Being Blindsided by Your Client

The last thing you want is to be ambushed at the meeting with a complaint you didn’t see coming. You can usually avoid this by asking your client in advance what items they want to discuss, or by sending them your agenda and asking them what else they’d like to include. Let them know that this enables you to investigate any issue prior to the meeting so you can provide answers to them, discuss the issue, and put it to bed. Otherwise, tell them, any investigation has to take place after the debriefing, prolonging the process.

Structuring the Debrief Report To Minimize Nitpicking

Not all event details are of equal importance, and you don’t want a discussion of the coat check to take up as much time as whether revenue goals were achieved.

  • Title the first section something like “Big Picture” or “Event Goals”. It should address whether event objectives were achieved, and any other high level strategic items. This helps put things in proper perspective from the outset.
  • List all other areas, even if there were no problems. It’s human nature to focus on the negatives, but make sure you acknowledge what worked well. On the list of 100 event details, 3 of those might be negative. The other 97 are important to highlight for the client, so they maintain a balanced view of the event.
  • That said, be cautious of how positive you are so that the report doesn’t turn into a sales pitch. You need to be perceived as delivering an honest and unbiased assessment.

If The Event Had Problems

Ask the client to evaluate their experience working with you. This separates your performance from the event’s performance, which may have had challenges beyond your control. If you’re an external planner, this is also your opportunity to explain why hiring you for next year makes sense. You are familiar with the meeting and the client’s needs. They are now familiar with how you work. Together, you can make next year’s meeting a resounding success.

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