Postmortem event meetings are a last chance to fix future mistakes

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then any event planner that doesn’t do a postmortem after an event is crazy.

“Postmortems are an essential way to correct mistakes and make process improvements by discussing the good and the bad following an event,” says Ryan A. Konikoff, COO at Rock The House.

Instead, he says many event planners finish a big project and move on without digging into the details of the outcome to make things better.

“Even if an event goes well, there’s always room for improvement,” he says. “A postmortem can help identify ways to make the next event even better.”

Smart Business spoke with Konikoff about how to use postmortem meetings to improve events.

When is the best time to hold the postmortem?
The best time to conduct a postmortem is soon enough after the event that the details are still fresh in the staff’s mind, but with enough separation that the staff can look at it a little more dispassionately. Staff should still feel a little of the pain from the things that bugged them, but have enough rest that frayed nerves become less of a factor.

What’s the first step in an event postmortem?
Everyone involved in an event should be congratulated for some part of his or her contribution. The people involved in putting on an event all performed monumental tasks, regardless of whether it’s a lunch for the boss and a client or a three-day conference for 20,000 people. Events are often complex with lots of moving parts and can require some to work 20-hour days. So congratulate those involved with a pat on the back, a nice lunch or a toast to their hard work.

What should be discussed during the meeting?
An effective postmortem gathers feedback from all levels — attendees, any performers or speakers, sponsors, the event host, the audio/visual partner and the event staff. A great place to get feedback is from the bartenders, servers or staff working in sponsorship areas because they have their ear to the ground and know what really went on. That can lead to a follow up to deal with an issue that might have otherwise gone unreported.

In the meeting, go around the room and ask everyone how it went. Review the main sections of the event — arrival and entry, food, transportation, venue, entertainment, etc. Talk specifically to the people in charge of the individual categories to get their perspective.

When an issue is brought up in the post-event discussion, it’s critical to get to the bottom of why it happened.

Often, a postmortem is the last chance to have that exact team together, so it’s essential to get as much information as possible from them so the mistakes that occurred during the event can be avoided in the future.

Look into issues individually and objectively. For instance, it could come up that there was an hourlong wait for buses. There could be a completely understandable reason that happened, or it could be the fault of a vendor.

What can event planners do to avoid the mistakes uncovered in a postmortem?
All through the postmortem process, it’s important that everything that’s said is documented. Keep clear and thorough notes and file them in a way that they can be easily referenced. That way, the notes can be reviewed ahead of reoccurring events to help with vendor and location selection and setup, as well as appropriate staffing levels, and host and sponsor preferences.

Event planners should be cautious of success. There’s the tendency after a well-executed event to skip the postmortem, thinking there’s no need to discuss issues if none seemed to exist. But there’s always room for improvement, always something that could have been better. And in some cases, staffers need to learn how to better plan for success to ensure all guests have an equally good experience.

Embracing a postmortem system as standard procedure after each event will not only reduce errors, but also help identify ways to make future events even better.

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