Survey Says! Three Ways to Add Polling to the Program

Level Up Your In-Session Polls, Level Up Your Session.

Audience participation is one of the most tech-forward meeting developments today, according to research from IACC. In-session polling offers a particular benefit to presenters and planners: By giving attendees a real-time, active presence in programming, in-session polling can drive engagement and focus.

But there’s a difference between throwing a single question on the screen as a gimmick and truly leveraging the possibilities of live polling technology. Here are three tips for deploying polls in sessions, for you to use directly or to pass on to presenters.

Power Poll Tactic #1: Choose Your Own Adventure

Let the poll dictate the direction of a session by allowing attendees to choose at the start what they’d like to learn about. Give two options—or more if presenters are OK with it—and kick it off with the question to the audience.

This requires presenters or panelists to be on board with the plan, but the possibilities for an energetic, spontaneous session may be worth it to the right team. Written agendas should communicate the “choose your own adventure” aspect to attendees, which both builds anticipation for the structure of the session and sets expectations that attendees should be prepared to go with the flow.

This style of engagement works particularly well with panelists who are dynamic and have presented together before, or who otherwise have a strong rapport.

Power Poll Tactic #2: Repeat Yourself

Most sessions are meant to change or open attendees’ perspectives in some way, whether that’s through education, persuasion, or promotion. You can get real-time insight into a session’s effectiveness by posing the same question at the beginning and end of a session to gauge whether attendees have changed their mind in any way.

Launch a session by asking a question that’s central to the presentation’s message. Aim for a question that’s slightly provocative to generate intrigue, or simply ask a matter-of-fact question that leans into the possibility of someone changing their mind in-session, such as, “Do you believe that [topic] has the potential to significantly better our industry?”

Yes/no or multiple-choice questions can have a dramatic payoff, but they run the risk of indicating that the presenter has failed to change anyone’s perspective. Depending on the session, eliciting open-ended responses such as “What word comes to your mind when you think about [topic]?” can be effective. Some polling tools have word cloud generators built in; using these to do a before-and-after word cloud can show how an audience has evolved during the session.

Power Poll Tactic #3: Play With Contrast

Solemn topics may call for solemn poll questions to avoid seeming flippant. But a gently amusing question can also serve as an icebreaker—not to get attendees to mingle with each other, but to get attendees to engage more deeply with a topic. In fact, it can help the audience weather any stresses that might arise as a result of a sensitive topic: A 2021 study showed that humor lessened levels of the stress hormone cortisol when study participants were faced with a stressful task.

Ideally, a humorous poll question adds both levity and meaning. But if that bar is too high, a playful question with only tangential relevance to the session can still relax attendees. A session on developments for auto safety might, for example, begin by asking a trivia question about a well-known road-trip movie; a presentation about cybersecurity might begin by asking people to vote on what they think is the most commonly used password (it’s 123456, for the record).

Asking questions during a session is more than an engagement gimmick. It can give presenters valuable information that they’ll carry into their future research, help anchor the session, and create a unified experience. And if your presenters are still having trouble getting on board, remind them that asking questions makes people appear more likable. Who doesn’t want that?