Let's talk about interactive polls in web meetings. I'm including webinars, webcasts, and peer-level web conferences equally in this discussion.
The basic functionality of audience polling has been around since the very early days of web conferencing. It is still probably the first thing most people think of when looking for ways to encourage audience engagement, interaction, and participation in a web session.
I can't tell you how many times I have been a guest speaker for a web conference vendor who tells me up front, "You should put some polls in your presentation." What bothers me is that they aren't reacting to the content I have developed, or to my presentation style, or to audience preferences. They haven't seen any of those things yet. They don't ask me if I think I might be able to bring more benefits to the audience's understanding and involvement in the subject by using a poll to stimulate additional insight or discussion. No, it's just an automatic request to use a technology feature because it's there. This is the kind of thinking that leads to valueless polls that break the flow of a presentation, take time out of the session, and provide no benefits. The presenter says, "Let's do a poll… Okay, here is the way you voted. Thanks for participating. Now, moving on…"
If you view polls as an obligatory interaction where the results don't really matter, you will quickly lose audience goodwill and further participation. Once they find out that their efforts aren't valued, they will stop making the effort to join in.
Every poll in your session must have a clear and explicit value proposition for the audience. You should be able to introduce your poll with a statement of what the attendees will gain by participating and seeing the results. You want to tell them why it is worth taking the time to think about the question and submit their answer. Common phrases include:
- "Here's your chance to see how you compare to your peers in this area."
- "You can help guide the next part of the discussion with your response. That will tell me what I should concentrate on (or how much background I need to give, etc, etc.)"
- "Let's find out how common this knowledge is. We'll do a little test and see if you and your peers know this information already."
In your preparation as a presenter, you should decide how you will address different types of results when you show the responses. A poll should always be a jumping-off point to your next bit of presentation. It needs to be integral to and a part of your content flow.
I have additional guidelines for best practices in an older blog post: "Tips For Webinar Polls." In my next post, I'll take a look at differences in technical implementation of polling between web conferencing products.