How to write a feedback form that gets useful results

Have you ever looked at the feedback form you get at the end of a presentation or conference, and wonder what the hell those questions mean? Being a little tired and keen to get home, can you easily figure out what the subjective, often leading questions are trying to worm out of you?

feedback formsAnd do you, as so many people do, fill in the bare minimum of answers or even not bother at all? Relax: it’s the form writers’ fault, not yours.

Here are some examples of terrible feedback form questions, how to do them properly, and why. Stick with me: it gets better…

Why are so many feedback forms utter garbage?

Once upon a time, I was asked by my local hospital to join a group who were putting together a patient conference about breast cancer. My role was as Chair of a local cancer charity but the fact that I am a professional business writer and have many years’ experience in devising and producing 7-figure conferences in the commercial world had not escaped the local organisers. They knew I could help them and appreciated it.

The event was to be funded and driven by a large national cancer charity who sent a few of their staffers to instruct us. The fact that none had any training in conference production didn’t matter at all and of course as I was a volunteer, I couldn’t possibly know as much as the “professionals” did.

The subject of feedback forms came up and the Big Guys had that under control

Not only did they have it all organised but one of the ladies plonked a stack of 100 feedback forms on the table and smiled at her fait accompli.

Although an alarm bell tinkled at the back of my mind it was only during the meeting break that I read one of these feedback forms. It was bullsh*t. I collared the senior Nurse Practitioner in charge of the event at our end and asked her to read it. She did. Verdict? Bullsh*t.

The audience was to consist of breast cancer patients of all ages, their partners, carers and friends. The language used for these poor people was stuffy and riddled with clichés. There were also a few grammar and syntax goofs but never mind.

PROBLEM: Questions like this are vague as well as stuffy and people won’t grasp what’s wanted quickly. Considering all they want to do is fill in the form and leave, that’s a no-no.

Here are some (verbatim) excerpts from the national charity’s form:

How do you feel the following situations has changed as a result of today’s event.
5.1.         Prior to the event my level of distress regarding my situation
Significantly                                                                                                       Significantly
Good                                                                                                                    poor
10         9            8            7            6            5            4            3            2            1         0

I won’t include the rating options for each of the following to avoid boring you: they were the same for each question. No guidance was given about circling the appropriate number. Enjoying this? Here are some more:

5.1.1      After the event today my level of distress in regards to my situation

5.2        Prior to the event today my understanding of my situation

5.2.1     After the event, today my understanding of my situation

5.3        Prior to the event today, my level of confidence in my ability to cope with my situation

5.31      After the event today my confidence in my ability to cope with my situation

6.          What, if any, changes to your current lifestyle do you intend to make after attending todays event?

7.          How would you improve today’s event?

8.          If you have any further comments, please add them below.

“Please write it in plain English,” said the (local) Nurse Practitioner to me.

“I’ll wait until they’re gone and put all this crap through the shredder for recycling.”

PROBLEM: How to phrase questions so delegates don’t have to think too hard and can identify with them quickly

Here’s what we used:

How has today’s event changed what you know and how you feel about breast cancer? Please answer the following by rating them on a 0 – 10 scale (just circle the number that’s right for you).

5.1 Before today, how worried were you about breast cancer?
Very worried …………………………………………………..Not worried

5.1.1 And now, how worried are you about breast cancer?
Very worried……………………………………………………Not worried

5.2 Before today, how much did you feel you knew about breast cancer?
A lot………………………………………………………….Not much

5.2.1 Now, how much do you feel you know about breast cancer?
A lot………………………………………………………….Not much

5.3 Before today, how confident were you that you cope well with your (or your friend’s/relative’s) breast cancer?
Very confident………………………………………………….Not confident at all

5.3.1 Now, how confident are you that you will cope well with your (or your friend’s/relative’s) breast cancer?
Very confident………………………………………………….Not confident at all

6. What, if any, changes to your current lifestyle will you make after attending today’s event?

7. How do you think today’s event could have been more useful for you? If so, please write your views

8. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? Please write it here

10 tips on how to write feedback forms that get the information you need

1.Plan the feedback form so it addresses only key views you need

2.Keep it short: no more than four or five questions tops. Delegates have appointments, home lives, needs to go to the bathroom etc. (NB in the example above I was obliged to retain the same number of questions, against my better judgement!)

3.Forget asking questions about the catering, the decor, the parking: if someone wants to complain about that they’ll do it in the “any other comments”

4.Ask the most important questions first in case delegates run out of time/energy

5.Ensure the questions are all about you, the delegate; how you felt, what knowledge did you leave with that you didn’t have when you arrived

6.Be specific about what you want to know, but don’t lead them

7.Phrase the questions in language your delegates will understand – no pompous corporate grandstanding or clichéd BS

8.Make it easy for delegates to rate the points: phrases like “significantly good” are woolly. Say what you mean

9.Do not make it obligatory for delegates to leave their name and contact details: you’ll get more honest answers if they can remain anonymous

10.Lastly, thank them for filling in the form: say how important their feedback is to you. If you ask the right questions, it is important.

What experience do you have of writing and filling in feedback forms?

Your, um, feedback here is important to me and thank you in advance for sharing! Seriously. Sz x

 

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