Electronic polling directly involves the audience in a presentation. The exact purpose of this interaction must be established in the preparation. The vote itself may leave the presenter with a result that is unexpected or undesired and this may challenge the planned direction or even purpose of a presentation. Technical issues are multiple. Time is also consumed by this. Electronic polling is a risky strategy in a presentation and must be used with care.
There is huge value in audience engagement. Electronic polling systems offer a direct method of doing so, gauging opinion and knowledge of the whole group and sharing this. It can be used to tell, test and even change the direction of the piece based on results. The exact purpose of this electronic polling must be established in planning and take account of many possibilities afforded by the result. The question must be straightforward, unambiguous and the options distinct. This itself is challenging if non-binary.
The results of a poll that is in alignment with the expectation of the presenter offer emphasis and re-enforcement to a point within the p1. “And, as we can see, the majority of the audience agree that…” The investment to make this should be evaluated not simply by the result. Unless unanimous, potentially itself a poor investment, the result exposes difference. That difference, if expected, may guide the debate of the piece. It should be remembered though that holding a contrary view is one thing; being exposed, even anonymously, is very different. The reasons for the alternative stance may be simple, knowledge or experienced based but may also be more complex than the answer posed. They may even be as simple as pressing a wrong button.
To be effective, electronic polling systems need to be universal, simple to use and effective. The best way is to use dedicated devices. There is a huge cost in time and effort. All devices must be checked individually before a labour intense distribution and subsequent retrieval. There are smartphone services. Most, but not all, audience members will have such a device but they may not have a data package, decent phone signal or even power at that precise time excluding them from the vote. Locally provided wifi is hugely unreliable at the best of times and may collapse under the stress of the whole audience polling at one time. Disenfranchising individuals by any of these will challenge the value of the message, add distraction simply by activating mobile phones and must, therefore, be weighed for ultimate valume.
Once a system is selected, distributed and actioned this must be embedded into the presentation. The complexity of this must not be underestimated. Bespoke systems will need effective Bluetooth or wifi connections. The presentation software must be compliant and able to show real-time results in an appropriate graphical representation. And even this tallying takes time due to delays in polling, collation and calculation. This cannot be effectively quantified ahead of time but will hugely reduce the time available for discussing the result obtained. Such investment must be balanced against the hoped-for result of electronic polling.
The physical act of “voting” is valuable but as The BBC might say, “other polling options are available.” A personal note, raising of hands (even with eyes closed) or simply choosing from a list may achieve the desired impact without the investment and risks of electronic polling. Consider the overall balance of cost, effort and reward before deciding on electronic polling.