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Improve Your Conference Session: Poll the Audience!

Keynote speeches can be entertaining, but are they a good use of conference goers time? A few tweaks can make all the difference.
audience poll

Last Tuesday I was invited to give a keynote speech and I resolved to make sure it would be memorable. Not memorable as in outrageous or as in a wardrobe malfunction, but rather memorable as in information people would want to remember so that they could apply it as soon as they returned home.

My talk was on presentation skills and the “stickiness factor”, and to make sure it would be relevant I spent considerable time talking with and emailing back and forth with the event organizer to learn about the audience.

She encouraged me to use PollEverywhere with her audience and I jumped at the chance. While engaging the audience by polling them and asking them to respond via SMS messaging is a great concept, there are a few things to keep in mind before taking this technology in front of a live audience. 

First, the audience needs to be given a briefing on how to actually use the technology. Often, audiences aren’t expecting to be asked to interact with a speaker, let alone use their own phones, so they need some hand holding.

If they can’t figure out the technology, they won’t participate, and then your bright idea to engage them turns into a nightmare (and since they have their phones out anyway, they may just begin checking their email or tweeting bad things about your presentation).

For my talk, I embedded this slide:

PollEverywhere (Instructions)

I also began with a few warm-up questions to get people accustomed to both the open-ended and multiple choice style polls I’d be using. They looked like this:

PollEverywhere (Fav Food)
PollEverywhere (Best Food)

Perhaps the biggest key, however, was practicing this beforehand. If you’ve never used PollEverywhere, it takes a little getting used to. Here are a few helpful hints to ensure that this fun idea to engage your audience doesn’t crash and burn:

  1. Reliable Internet. If your computer isn’t connected to the Internet, you will not be able to access your poll(s) during your presentation.
  2. Activation! After you’ve set up your poll(s) in PollEverywhere, you need to take the second step of activating the poll(s) you want to run during your presentation. If you haven’t activated your poll(s), your audience will only see a blank screen and will not be able to participate in your poll(s).
  3. Centering on your Slide. If you’ve embedded your poll(s) in your slide deck, I’ve found that they can appear off-center from time to time. Like really off-center (so that you can’t see most of the poll). This happened to me in the minutes prior to my keynote last week. An email from the support team at PollEverywhere informed me to fix a setting (here’s the specific instruction in case it happens to you: “From the slide show tab in the PowerPoint ribbon be sure to select ‘Primary Monitor’ in the monitor drop down menu.”).

The bottom line: I’m a huge fan of PollEverywhere and my audience on Tuesday was very eager to interact with me using this technology. Like any technology, however, it can act up at the worst possible time, so be sure you’ve practiced several times before getting in front of your audience.


Interested in another interactive technology for your next presentation? Come back on Thursday and I’ll share my plans for using Kahoot! in an upcoming meeting.

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