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After Action Review: A Critical Component to Event Planning

By: Kara Nacarato | Feb, 3 2023
Meeting/Event Design & Management

When we talk about successful event planning, the emphasis is quite often on the word “planning” and all the tools and techniques we employ to ensure a successful event. But what about after the event? How well do we evaluate/measure the success of the event, and do we spend the time necessary discussing what went well and where there is room for improvement? How do we use these valuable lessons-learned to guide our strategy for the next event? When we start the next planning cycle, do we revisit what we learned during the last event to ensure continued improvement? 

The insight we gain during the planning and implementation of an event should play a critical part in helping us deliver better events year after year. Let’s take a look at a few ways we can use an After Action Review (AAR) to help wrap up an event planning cycle and guide us in future events. 

What is an AAR? 

If you do a simple Internet search you will find countless articles, definitions, and examples of what an AAR is and how to conduct one. In very general terms, an AAR is a way to quickly evaluate a process/project and review successes and failures to support process improvements. AARs were originally created in the Military to allow soldiers to act quickly and adjust processes based on lessons learned in the field. Now, AARs are used in many industries as a standard process improvement tool.

Specifically in regards to event planning, here are some things to consider when conducting a post-event After Action Review: 

Preparing for your AAR

Collecting feedback: To help make the AAR as meaningful as possible, I suggest you identify your intentions to conduct an AAR post event and encourage team members to document items that come up through the process that they want to address during the AAR. It is particularly important to remind your onsite team members to document items while onsite, so they don’t forget or overlook important items once you convene post-event. Additionally, it may be helpful to provide an AAR feedback form to all team members after the event to allow for additional feedback that may not have been documented onsite. 

Most recently in the AAR’s I’ve facilitated/participated in, I have found it useful to collect the forms from all team members with enough time prior the scheduled AAR to allow the facilitator (or whoever is leading the discussion) to review all the comments and group common themes/topics together since you will likely not have time to cover everything during the review. 

Timing: It is important to schedule your meeting as soon as possible following the conclusion of your event. I like to have this event on the calendar before we arrive onsite so it doesn’t get delayed too long after the event. This also helps keep it top of mind for onsite team members. I would suggest you plan for 1-2 hours for your AAR depending on team and event size. Anything longer than 2 hours will be difficult for participants to stay engaged.

Participants: All team members actively involved in planning and implementing the event should be invited to participate. 

Conducting the AAR 

While there are many ideas, tips, tricks to be found about how to conduct the AAR, here are some key elements I have found to be important in conducting a successful AAR: 

Promote Honesty: It is important to establish some parameters in the beginning of the meeting and to remind the team the importance of open and honest communication. Reiterate the purpose of the AAR and that we are not here to place blame or shame but rather to identify wins and losses and focus on process improvements. 

Make Space for All: Be sure all participants have the opportunity to speak and provide feedback. This should be an open dialog and include everyone versus one or two people influencing the direction of the entire meeting.   

Keep it Moving: It is easy to get stuck on a particular topic, but it is important to document items and keep moving forward. Particularly when discussing items that did not go well, it is tempting to spend time defending or explaining what happened or trying to identify solutions. Instead, take note of the issue/concern and document it so that the appropriate team members can address it in future planning meetings and process improvement discussions. 

Voice of the Customer:  I like to include the voice of the customer when possible. This helps give team members another perspective. This is also a great opportunity to focus on the positive feedback you likely received from some of your attendees and reminds the team who the customer is and why we strive to deliver the best event possible. 

Document: Be sure that someone is taking good notes during the meeting. This is critical to the process to allow for team members to review and take action after the AAR. Remember the goal of the AAR is not to solve all the problems in that moment but rather to understand and capture items we want to remember and come back to for future planning. 

Next Steps

Once you complete the AAR, it is important to share the notes with the team soon after the conclusion of the meeting along with suggested next steps. If there were specific team members assigned to follow up on an item, be sure that is included in the notes in an action item section. 

Keep in mind that one of the most important reasons for conducting an AAR is to allow the team to come back to the information collected and use it to grow and improve the event. If you simply go through the motions of conducting an AAR, but never go back to review the notes and address any concerns, the exercise did not serve the purpose intended and you are likely missing opportunities to advance your event goals. 

If you are interested in learning more about how to conduct an AAR following your event, or you would like help, feel free to reach out to Kara directly at [email protected].  


Photo Credit: Pexels.com

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