My last post talked about interactive polling in web conferences from the viewpoint of best practices and conceptual integration into your presentation flow. Now it is time to turn our attention to the technical aspects of web conference polls and how you should evaluate differences in implementation between vendors and products. Once again, for this particular post I am not making a distinction between web meetings, webinars, or webcasts when I talk about web conferencing.
If you ask a vendor whether they support interactive polls in web conferences, the answer is always "YES." But that doesn't mean they are all equivalent. It is worth your time to dig into the specifics of their functionality and see if it matches your needs. Here are some areas of differentiation to investigate:
1) Maximum Number of Answer Choices. Does your vendor limit the number of selection choices you can present to your attendees? No matter what the limit is, it is likely to be a problem for you at some point. As a best practice, I don't like presenting audiences with more than 7 choices (5 is a better practical limit), as it takes attendees too much time to read and evaluate them. But someday you will feel the need to have a poll with 8 choices and you'll be angry if your vendor prevents it. Never accept a limit below 5.
2) Multiple Selection Polls. Does your vendor limit you to polls requiring attendees to pick one and only one answer? There are many cases where it makes more sense to structure a poll as "Select all that apply." You should look for this capability.
3) Display/Suppress Vote Counts. If you are gathering votes among committee members, it might be important to show the number of raw votes each option received. If you are running a marketing or lead gen webinar and only got eight attendees, you probably don't want to advertise that fact. You should be able to display results with vote counts and/or percentages as appropriate to your needs.
4) Prepare Ahead of Time. Can you create your polls ahead of time and have them ready to use when you start your session? A few vendors require you to create your polls inside an active web session and they are only active for the length of that one session. This is now uncommon, thank goodness!
5) Create During a Session. The flip-side of the previous capability is the option to create or edit a poll on the fly inside an active web meeting. A few vendors mandate that polls can only be managed ahead of time in the administrative console. Once the session starts, your polls are locked in. This can be frustrating if you notice a typo or someone decides they want to change an option at the last minute.
6) Display on Demand. I know of at least one vendor that displays all created polls in a tab that is accessible to attendees throughout the webinar. You can't keep a poll hidden and then show it when you are ready to bring it into your presentation flow. This makes it tricky to introduce the poll in proper context.
7) Allow Vote Changes. Some vendors require attendees to submit or lock-in their vote on each poll. Once a choice is selected, it cannot be changed. I'm not a fan of that restriction, as people sometimes react too quickly and then want to change their selection once they hear a longer explanation or get more context from the presenter. Even worse are implementations where clicking on an answer choice immediately locks it in as the vote. People sometimes click without thinking as they read the answer choices. They are frustrated when they find out their first click registers as an unchangeable vote!
8) Allow Continuously Running Polls. A very few products (Adobe Connect is one) allow you to keep a poll open and accessible next to your presentation content. Attendees can continuously change their votes and presenters can always see the current totals. This is sometimes useful for status checks such as "How is my pace?" or "Go into more detail / Move on to next topic." You can use the poll as a running feedback loop between the audience and the presenter.
9) Offer Results Display Options. A few products allow you to change the graphical display of poll results between bars and pie slices. It's nice to have the added flexibility, but is probably not a critical piece of functionality.
10) Integrate Polls Into Presentation Flow. I know of at least one vendor that requires you to stop showing your slide presentation, switch to a separate polls management functionality, then switch back to your presentation (which restarts at the first slide, requiring you to find and redisplay the next slide you wanted to show). You want to be able to smoothly continue your presentation after your poll.
11) Choose When to End or Display Voting. This is a special condemnation for WebEx. When the presenter chooses to end the voting and wants to show the results, the software checks to see if everyone has submitted a vote. If not, it creates a 20-second countdown to allow final votes to come in, which cannot be overridden. I can't believe that a vendor feels they have the right to delay my presentation at their discretion.
12) Report Individual and Cumulative Votes. Post-webinar reporting should include cumulative summaries of the raw votes and percentages for each answer choice on each poll. There should also be a way to track each attendee's individual responses for each poll. Note that this gets problematic when looking at polls allowing more than one selection. The vendor should have a way to make post-webinar analysis effective and easy.
13) Allow Specialized Interactions. A very few vendors allow polls that go beyond single or multiple selection choices. Some examples I have covered in the past:
- ReadyTalk with Agree/Disagree, Ranking, and Comments
- PresenterNet with InterActor controls
- Adobe Connect with custom pod extensions for points distribution (see post comments)
- TalkPoint with mobile device interaction for in-room attendees
14) Redisplay Results. Some vendors only display poll results immediately after voting concludes. You can't come back later and redisplay the results. There are times when you want to come back to poll results to make another point or to remind people of the voting. It's a nice capability to look for.
15) Poll Placement. You will see lots of differentiation in how and where polls and results are shown in the conferencing window. WebEx uses a small panel in the corner of the screen, where long questions and answer choices can be difficult to read. Adobe Connect allows the presenter to show the poll in a "pod" that can be resized and positioned at the presenter's discretion. ON24 allows each user to resize and reposition the poll within the conference's "virtual desktop." GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar make the poll take up the entire display area. You should verify the user interface in terms of presenter control and how it appears to attendees as a part of your evaluation process.
If you have made it this deep in the post, you may be wondering why I have not mentioned options involved with scored answers or game playing based on responses. I think these cross into different areas of functionality that are worth considering separately from polling. They are more properly classified as quizzes or tests, which offer additional nuances and implementation details.
I am interested in hearing your opinions on this type of blog post. Is it helpful? Would you like me to address other web conferencing features in a similar comparison fashion? Or is it unnecessary detail given that you have a conferencing solution in place and don't need to cross-shop feature differences between products? Please feel free to respond with your thoughts and suggestions.