How to Debrief a Big Event

It’s summertime and you all know what that means…time to unload your church’s clip of events on your community! Wooohooo!

Vacation Bible School! Camp! Mission Trip! Choir Camp! More Mission Trips! Fundraisers?

I’ve never understood what part of melting in the Texas heat was so appealing to other humans, but there’s no doubt that summer is the time to relax, hang out, and be outside. You know that familiar smell of coconut sunscreen means big events are in your future, church communicator!

We plan and prepare and execute and then…we go home. Many church communicators are so exhausted after an event like VBS that we don’t even want to be around our own kids for a day or two, much less talk about how the event went.

But the best time to debrief a big event is (unfortunately) right after the event. Don’t miss this window! Let’s talk about how to debrief big (or small) events real quick so you can go home.

The Best Debrief Starts Before the Event

When planning an event, you should always start with a clear goal. Without a clear goal in mind, the goal will degrade down to simply “do the event.” When it’s over, everyone will act like it was so great, but not because it actually was great, but because we did it. Yay us.

Take Notes (or Pictures) During the Event

Use Google Keep or a notes app on your phone and write down what goes well and what seems to miss the mark while the event is going on. This helps your debrief process immensely and is really great when your whole team knows to do this.

Debrief Events Sooner Rather Than Later

Don’t wait two or three days to sit down and talk about the event. Get together with your team to talk about it while the event is still fresh on their minds. You’ll have a much more helpful conversation in preparation for next time.

Give Advance Notice of the Debrief

Before the event even starts, give your team a time and date for debriefing. The worst feeling is thinking you’re done with something only to find out, surprise! we’re still on this event! Advance notice also allows them to collect their thoughts too so that your debrief conversation is much more helpful and insightful.

Questions to Ask Yourselves During the Debrief

Make a Hits/Misses chart on a white board and let everyone give you their impressions of what went well (hits) and what didn’t (misses). Ask for clarity where necessary but don’t stop to discuss too much here.

When you’re done with the lightning round, go back and answer these questions with your team:

  • Did our communication go out early enough?
  • Did our communication hit the right target audience? Did they show up?
  • Was our social media coverage during the event high quality? Instagram is a killer app for wide coverage. Here’s how to use it.
  • Did you have photographers/videographers in place ahead of time? Did they know what we needed from them?
  • What did we spend vs. what did we bring in (if any) and were we over/under budget?
  • Did we communicate the value of the event well via our communication channels and/or how well did it connect to our overall vision/values?

You may want to add more to this list depending on the event, but you get the idea. Clearly, a LOT of thought went into communication before the event.

Take Furiously Detailed Notes During the Debrief Session

Type out as much detail as you can about the event in a Word or Google Doc to save for review next time. These notes should include a short summary section titled “Changes for Next Time” or “Things that Nearly Killed Us” or something obvious like that. In this section, write out your action items for next time, such as “The printer we use doesn’t have pink ink, so use this other one for this event.” You know, normal stuff that you might not expect to be unique to the event.

You want to come back to this document before trying the event again to be quickly reminded of any major issues so that you don’t make the same mistakes again.

Keep Talking About the Good Stuff

It would be easy to dwell on the things that went wrong. While that can help you improve, make sure your volunteers, superiors, and peers hear more about what went right than what went wrong. The communications department can be a place where improvement is championed so strongly, that it becomes a place of negativity than encouragement. That can really drain you. Try to stay positive.

What else could you do to debrief a big event? Let me know in the comments!

If you want to hear more about church communications and social media, check out The Seminary of Hard Knocks Podcast on iTunes or Google Play!

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