Using polls requires preparation before the event.
First, consider carefully the objective of including each poll. Keep in mind that too many polls throughout an event can easily overwhelm or distract the audience and cost time. Second, decide what type of information you would like to gather from the audience, at which point in the event, and how to formulate the questions (and if relevant, answer options in case of a closed format). Include this information in a moderation script. Formulate closed questions if you want to make the responses easy to summarize and interpret on the spot. Think about what type of closed questions to use: multiple choice, drop-down, multiple answers, scales, rankings, etc. The options may vary depending on which tool is used. Formulate open questions when you want to get individual and detailed input from the audience.
At different points in the event, polls can serve different purposes.
At the start of the event a poll can be used to:
- Get to know the audience (and participants to get to know each other as well): ask basic questions about age, origin, reason of joining the event, professional background, etc.
- Assess participants’ expectations of the event: knowing their expectations allows the facilitator to adapt the event and the content accordingly. By aligning the topics and goals with the expectations of the participants, frustrations and demotivation can be prevented or reduced
- As an opening energizer or to find out about the general level of motivation/ mood of participants in order to build a connection (e.g., Q: “How do you feel about today’s session?” A: “I need a coffee first” or “Super motivated”)
- Introduce a workshop topic or assess the prior knowledge of participants: Specific open questions can be raised which the speakers can focus on more extensively during the event.
- For long-term courses: as a decision-making tool for questions that concern the group directly (e.g., “Which communication tool would you prefer for us as a group to keep in touch?”).
During the event a poll can be used to:
- Introduce a new topic and focus the participants’ attention by raising stimulating questions
- Make a short quiz in the form of a game to activate participants
- Generate live visualizations such as word clouds.
At the end of the event, a poll can be used to:
- Ask for feedback about the event
- Create a quiz to test the audience’s comprehension of the topics covered.
During the event
Avoid an event design where one expert or speaker occupies disproportionately the time while the rest are passive listeners. Instead distribute inputs more evenly. Different speakers might make it easier for participants to stay concentrated for a longer time.
It is important to let some of the participants know in advance that their input/opinion/participation will be required as this gives them time to prepare.
If the event format allows it, take advantage of asynchronous work to ensure that the participants are prepared in advance and to avoid long powerpoint presentations. In some cases, participants can already be actively involved in the design of the content for the event. (see Asynchronous/synchronous work).
Use open questions or tasks that stimulate participation.