Despite -- or perhaps because of -- our societal penchant for everything virtual, we still yearn for face-to-face moments. A prime example of the importance we place on gathering with others is our constant support of live events. Roughly a quarter of each chief marketing officer's budget is devoted to paying for planned meetings, about 20 percent of which are trade shows and conferences.

Of course, not every event is a winner. Whether you're creating one, five, or hundreds of events every year, you owe it to your stakeholders, your attendees, and your bottom line to evaluate the return on investment every step of the way. Otherwise, how could you possibly know whether it's best to pull the plug or open the doors even wider?

Taking the Pulse of a Live Event

Tracking any event's ROI requires a laser-sharp focus on several key metrics.

The first is how many people are returning to each event versus how many new people are signing up. If you have more of the former, you have devotees, but you're not getting brand recognition and need to step up your promotional game. More of the latter? You're not engaging individuals at your event and need to study the problem pronto. Could the issue be one of geography? Try Localist to discover how far your best people want to travel.

Each attendee's event attendance rate is another important measurement. Have you hosted 10 events this year with a certain person attending only two when she attended four last year? That's a drop from 40 percent to 20 percent. Because she's still showing interest, she might be enticed to come back by discounts, invitations, or other targeted emails, a platform 72 percent of marketing pros use for event promotions.

The third metric assignment? Name and court those VIPs. They're your top event attendees and deserve their own marketing campaigns to stay happy. According to Eventbrite, the world's largest event technology platform, "building a community around your event and keeping that community engaged year-round gives you a ready-made group of potential attendees once the time comes to start selling tickets."

Another often-overlooked metric is the performance of different ticket types, such as early bird, general, VIP, etc. Which drive the most revenue? Are the early birds great at bringing money in fast but tough because they often request refunds?

Turning Your Events Into ROI Machines

Sure, all of those metrics might seem like good things to track, but how exactly do you do so? And once you've got those numbers, how do you improve them? Here are some tips to turn your events into the profitable enterprises that they deserve to be:

1. Define your starting point.

With so many metrics to track, it's hard to get a single clear indicator of where you stand before making any necessary tweaks. Eventbrite has developed an Event ROI Calculator to provide you with an analysis upon which you can build your improvement plan. Once you have the ball rolling on the metrics you'd like to improve, you can more easily maximize your data touchpoints and build inbound sale momentum.

2. Make real-time changes to event registration management.

As you explore your event registration-related data, you might begin to notice some patterns. Perhaps your Facebook ads are driving traffic faster than any other source. Why not allocate additional funding and pull back on the financial outlay in another area? Doing this as your registrations are coming in gives you tremendous control over an event's success.

3. Prevent logistical nightmares.

No attendee relishes waiting in long lines or missing out on an exciting workshop because the room wasn't big enough to hold participants. Giving registrants the ability to check in to the event, as well as scheduled aspects of the event like seminars, avoids negative experiences and creates a natural flow. Monitor activity as it's occurring, and you'll give your supporters more reasons to become your VIPs.

4. Listen to social media for insights.

Social media has changed the game for event planners because they can hear exactly what their attendees are saying online. This gives every organizer an immediate chance to take control of potential problems and instantly save face if something goes wrong. Additionally, the data obtained from social media can help determine where organizers should put advertising dollars to grab future registrants' attention.

5. Track all events through URLs.

Not setting up every channel promotion with its own URL and landing page? You're losing valuable data. You don't have to spend anything to use a tool like Google URL Builder to show you where your marketing is working -- and where it's not. And if it's falling flat somewhere, you can either try different methods on that channel or simply pivot to a different one that's doing well.

6. Start crowdshaping your events.

What's crowdshaping? It's utilizing your attendees' wearables and devices to shape the way they feel about your event. Not only can you monitor where people linger, but you can figure out their general patterns of engagement. This will allow you to understand where to put everything from promotional materials to representatives of your organization.

In the beginning, you might use simple means to increase your event ROI. But after a bit of time and with more comfort, you will become accustomed to diving deeper into your data to produce sophisticated ways to keep your events productive a

Published on: Jan 4, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.