Choosing the right metrics to assess your conference

4 minute read

Just like any other event, academic conferences need to innovate, adapt and evolve to fully meet their purpose: advance research and be a place for researchers to learn, network and progress.

One of the challenges conference organisers face is to improve their conference year after year and maximise attendees’ engagement and satisfaction.

That’s when data comes into play. Data provides reliable information on what attendees want, what you’re doing well and where you are failing. By leveraging data, you can craft a powerful strategy to tweak your conference and perfect it.

So what kind of data should you be using and where can you find it?

Defining your key metrics

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Before you dive into reports and spreadsheets, you need to define exactly what data you want to collect and analyse. Be careful not to fall into the trap of gathering an overwhelming number of metrics. You want to make sure that every metric you monitor provides actionable insight.
So the first step is to identify your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). We’ve identified four areas you should consider.

Getting to know your audience

Every event manager will tell you, if you want your event to be successful, you need to know your audience. Who are they? What are their needs? Why are they attending your conference in particular?
You can harness the power of data to learn more about your attendees.

Some key metrics to look into:
• Number of delegates
• Percentage of presenters and non-presenters
• Gender
• Origin/Countries
• Affiliation
• Percentage of first time attendees
• Percentage of repeat participants

You can also collect quantitative and qualitative feedback to learn why participants chose to attend your conference, what they liked, what they would change, which topics they were interested in or how many sessions they attended. Tailor the questions to get the answers you need.

Analysing your technical programme

Another central point of any academic conference is of course the content. Data can help you get a better insight into the researchers who are submitting to your conference and what type of material they are submitting. It will also provide valuable feedback on the programme management process. There is a lot of data available that you could study to refine your processes and make them more efficient.

Some key metrics to look into:
• Number of submissions
• Breakdown of submission formats
• Acceptance rate
• Popularity of topics, tracks, panels
• Number of reviewers
• Duration of the submission and reviewing phase
• Number of call for papers sent
• Number of reviewers who refused the invitation
• Number of reviewers who dropped during reviewing

Monitoring your finances

One of the first tasks of conference organisers is drafting a budget. Once it’s done, expenses and income need to be added and monitored along the way. This information will be useful to monitor your return on investment (ROI) and adjust your budget.

Some key metrics to look into:
• Revenue from registration
• Revenue from sponsors
• Revenue from social events (lunches, dinner, visits…)
• Total costs and cost per attendee
• Profit & Loss report

Following some marketing metrics

Hopefully, you built a website for your research conference (if not, you should have!) and you’re probably doing some marketing actions on social media such as Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin to try to attract more delegates. Since there is usually a cost involved, it’s a good idea to measure the impact of your marketing strategy and make sure it’s cost effective.

Some key metrics to look into:
• Number of visitors to the website
• Conversion rate i.e. number of visitors who registered or submitted a paper
• Traffic sources (organic, social, referrals, etc)
• Number of followers on Twitter / Likes on Facebook
• Budget spent on advertising or marketing action and return on investment
• Number of subscribers to your mailing lists: call for papers, newsletter, etc

Collecting the data

Now that you’ve identified your KPIs, you need to figure out where you can find the data. Ideally, you want to avoid collecting it manually.

Harnessing the power of reports

You should look at the wide range of tools you’re using to manage your conference for report information. The majority of these tools will offer reports from which you can extract precious information.
For the information on your technical programme, this should come from your abstract management software. At Ex Ordo, on top of the exports we give to organisers, we’re starting to provide final reports at the end of the conference to the organisers in a form of a PDF with charts and data recapping the main stats of their conference.
You should be able to get data on your attendees’ profiles from your registration system.
For the website and social media analytics, make the most of the free tools out there. Create a Google Analytics account to analyse your website traffic and audience. Both Twitter and Facebook offer some free analytics report as well. Have a look at this Buffer article https://blog.bufferapp.com/social-media-analytics-tools for a list of extra free tools.

Track, score and rate using mobile apps

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Collecting quantitative and qualitative feedback from your attendees can be a bit more challenging.

As Corbin Ball puts it in one of his articles:

“The onsite meeting used to be known as the “black hole” of event data management. (…) During an event, [planners] were “flying blind.””

Doing surveys via paper is the cheapest way to collect feedback. But this means you need to process the answers manually which isn’t very efficient.
Mobile apps allow you to track, score and rate, Corbin says. You can lead polls and surveys in real time, monitor the trending topics, the best speakers, and the attendees’ satisfaction.

“This real-time collection of onsite data can be a goldmine of information to gain insights for event improvement, to make midcourse corrections, to engage participants and to provide more targeted marketing.”

Corbin mentions companies like Certain Software, Cvent and Lanyon and you can also find a good list on the Event Marketing Blog.
Twitter can also be a great way to collect feedback and keep an ear on the ground. Read one of our articles on how to use Twitter at your conference

 

Identifying the KPIs that will help you assess the success of your conference is a big challenge. But there is an even bigger one once you’ve defined the metrics and collected the data: using this information to turn it into actionable insights.

Which metrics are you using to measure conference success?