Meeting Evaluation Forms to Smile About

Get more value out of your next meeting's evaluation forms.

We've all experienced them in one way or another: Those ubiquitous questionnaires handed out—or worse, left on tables or chairs—for attendees to complete at the end of an event. Typically less than a page long, they ask for a numerical rating of the session or presenter and are intended to help learning leaders decide if a session delivered on its promises.

Unfortunately, the smile sheets many of us use to "evaluate" an educational event are nothing to smile about. They don't have the specificity needed to generate helpful responses. And too often, they are used to determine whether learning occurred, without measuring whether it was effectively applied back in the workplace.

There are some things smile sheets just can't do. But if designed appropriately, they can be very useful for gathering feedback on the learners' immediate responses to the environment ("That was great! The food was awesome!"), content ("I loved that idea about using Twitter to send my cookbook customers tweets about what I'm ordering at the restaurant for dinner tonight"), and format ("That guy seemed to know his stuff, but sitting for 90 minutes and hearing him talk just couldn't hold my attention") of a session. Here's how to write one that works:

Content. Design your smile sheet to expose immediate takeaways and review learning objectives or outcomes. Ask attendees to list three new things they will be able to apply back in the "real world" to determine if any information was new to the general group, whether any of the content "stuck," and if content was presented in such a way that people leave believing there are applications for it.

List the learning objectives and ask attendees if they think they'll be able to apply each. Offer a "don't remember this" choice so attendees can tell you whether the objectives were covered. Occasionally someone will miss something, but if 15 of 20 people say they don't remember an objective being covered, then you know there's a hole in your content. Remember, you're not assessing whether or how well they learned the objectives, only what they believe the session covered.

Format. Were learners engaged the entire time? If not, why did they disconnect? Were their questions answered? Was the session worth their time?

Location. How you write these questions depends on whether you know you'll return to this location again or not. If returning, ask for feedback on whether the venue was conducive to learning. Was it comfortable? Were attendees able to stay focused? Were there distractions, such as hotel staff disrupting a session when they came in to clear refreshments?

Even if you won't be returning, assess how well you leveraged the location for the event. Was the city a desirable place to be for this topic, theme, or session? Why or why not? Your attendees must justify travel, and you need to understand whether you're helping them do that.

Food and beverage. If your sessions include refreshments, ask about them. Was there enough variety? Were special dietary needs met?
To find out what your members end up applying back in the real world, conduct separate, follow-up surveys or interviews. Don't ask the smile sheet to do more than it should, or you'll end up frowning over the results.

Ellen Behrens blogs about association learning at She is the author of aLearning: A Trail Guide to Association eLearning, available at