Many webinar technologies allow you to add polling slides to your presentation. You can ask the audience a multiple choice question and collect the answers. These can be useful, but I find that some of my clients want to overuse the feature. Let’s talk about some of the benefits and pitfalls you may encounter in audience polling.
One of the obvious benefits is engaging the audience and getting them to interact with you. People do zone out and lose concentration when they passively sit and watch/listen to a webcast. Anything that makes them turn on their brain and get some blood flowing through their fingertips is a good thing.
Another benefit is that you can learn some useful things about your audience that can help your presentation or your business. But there is an associated pitfall with this use of polling. Your attendees did not sign up to be part of a market research focus group. They are there to get something from you in exchange for their valuable time. Start treating them as lab rats and you are going to engender badwill (is that a word?) and see people leave.
Make sure to always introduce polling slides with some statement of why the audience’s participation will benefit them (at least indirectly). If you are asking them to identify themselves in some demographic, tell them it’s so you can tailor your presentation more specifically to their interests. Or say it’s a way for you to understand their concerns and preferences so your business can be more responsive. Anything that turns it around in their mind from something you are doing for your own selfish reasons into something that is magnanimous and oriented towards them.
Another key concept is to show the polling results to the audience whenever possible. Some of the vendors (like Microsoft) allow you (and optionally the audience) to see the results as they are entered – changing in real time. This is a great thing to show. The dynamic display at least gives your attendees something to watch, instead of sitting there with a static screen and idly waiting for the voting period to end. Occasionally you really don’t want to show the results. For instance, if you are asking for feedback at the end of the webinar on the content quality and strength of the speaker, you might want to keep the results hidden to prevent the possibility of ending with a negative association in somebody’s mind.
A final note on this subject is to remember that these polls only allow one answer per person. Work diligently at framing your questions and answers in such a way that one of the answers will be appropriate for any given audience member. Include “All of the above” and “None of the above” if needed. Attendees feel frustrated if more than one answer is applicable and they are forced to pick and choose to meet your restrictions. Sometimes you have to remind them to pick the “most applicable” or “highest priority” answer when several might apply.