Interactive audience polls are a marvelous feature of web conferencing software. They can engage an audience and give them an opportunity to feel like an active part of the discussion, even when there are too many audience members to hear from and respond to each individual.
Unfortunately, polls are often used poorly in webinars. Let's go over a few considerations and best practices in webinar polling.
1) Don't start your webinar with a poll. Your audience came to get something from you. If the first thing they see is a request for them to give YOU information, the psychology is turned around and violates expectations. Give before you take.
2) Keep things short. A good poll has a short question that is easy to read and is unambiguous. Answer choices should also be short and unambiguous. The longer it takes people to read and interpret the poll, the more time you waste and the more it is seen as frustrating rather than engaging.
3) Make your polls inclusive. If you ask a question about attendees' demographics, knowledge, behavior, etc. you must give EVERYONE in the audience an applicable answer choice. Remember to include "Other" or "Not Applicable" as choices in case they don't fit one of the categories in your list.
4) Announce multiple answer polls quickly. If your poll allows more than one answer choice ("Choose all that apply"), let your audience know that fact immediately, before talking through the poll. Otherwise the fast readers may pick only one choice and lock in their vote, only to be frustrated when they find out they could have picked multiple answers. When I use webinar software that locks audience votes on submission, I try to announce a multiple-answer poll BEFORE I display it.
5) Results are for the audience. Interactive polls during your presentation are a part of your presentation content. That means you need to show the cumulative results and have something to say about them. Don't just say "Thanks for voting" and move on to your next slide. Questions without display and discussion of results should be reserved for post-webinar surveys.
6) You can't please everyone. I moderate and present on LOTS of webinars. I deal with audiences in the dozens, hundreds, and thousands. And I regularly experiment with different strategies while the audience is voting. I have tried all of the following:
- Staying silent during the voting
- Reading the answer choices to the audience
- Explaining the different choices and what they mean
- Talking them through how the voting is going and how much time they have left to make a decision
- Talking to the presenter about a topic point
- Answering a relevant audience question
- Making announcements
- Combinations of the above
After trying the different techniques, I can confidently state that no matter what you do, somebody in the audience will complain. My recommendation? Mix it up – Do it a little differently on each poll. If the audience is big enough and we have lots of polls, I sometimes even tell them what I'm doing and why. It actually helps get them on your side if they know you are at least TRYING to accommodate a variety of preferences.
7) Polls are expendable. If you are running short on time, please jettison that poll towards the end. I can't believe how attached some presenters are to their polls. Your audience would much rather you take that extra 2-3 minutes giving them more value and completing your presentation in a calm, confident manner. If the skipped poll is really important to you, add it to your post-webinar survey.
I hope you found these useful. I would love to see comments with additional tips and tricks you have found effective in your webinars!