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The Power of Hindsight

Why event post-mortems matter—and how to do them right

By Connie Jeske Crane

The attendees have flown off and the chairs are being stacked. When an event ends, many organizations quickly switch to the next thing. And according to industry pros, valuable post-mortems often get missed in the rush. The reluctance is understandable: People are stretched and it’s hard to justify the time. And yet, even with successful events, forgoing analysis could cost an organization big time. Wondering if post-mortems are worth the time and effort? Here’s what we learned:

Why do a post-mortem?
Anne Thornley-Brown, president of Executive Oasis International in Richmond Hill, Ont., says post-mortems capture what went right and wrong, celebrate staff contributions, and refine best practices. “You can get some very rich learning and improve what you do next. If you never take time to reflect, you’re just going to keep repeating the same mistakes.”

Gail Reodica, event manager with Toronto’s Moore Carlyle Consulting/MCC Destination Management, says, “It’s basically a way to manage and look at the results of the event.” She says you’re reviewing things such as “if the attendees’ feedback was useful, whether the client was happy in the end, the overall effectiveness of the project itself, whether the budget was met, and also trying to determine overall what needs to be done for next year.”

Plus on the client side, Reodica says a post-mortem can actually endorse your company’s work. “Sometimes a client tends to focus on all the negatives, and it’s a way for you to remind them ‘Hey this is what we did for you.’”

The Perfect Post-mortem
Proper planning is key. Anne Thornley-Brown says ideally a post-mortem should:

  • Be arranged well in advance of the actual event.
  • Include communication with all players on process aims.
  • Occur at the venue immediately after the event.
  • Include various players starting with the client, event team, then venue contacts and other suppliers.
  • Stick to a schedule. Thornley-Brown advises 45-60 minutes with your client and event team; and 15-minute calls with suppliers who can’t attend.
  • Have an agenda. Walk through the event from check-in to meals, attendee complaint handling, etc. Cover problems but also positives.
  • Avoid blaming and negativity. Seek structured feedback. When discussing mistakes, focus on what you can learn from them.
  • Help to refine the organization’s best practices, goals and next steps.
  • Conclude with a report that supports staff and future event teams.

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