Making use of polls in online events

How to use polls to engage participants?

The challenge

Events such as lectures and trainings should be designed to engage and keep the attention of participants. This is even more challenging for online events. Real-life events provide the opportunity for spontaneous interaction with the audience, directly asking people questions and “taking the temperature” of the room, thus, building a connection between the speakers and their audience. In times when online events are the most common way of communication and presentation, new ways of engaging with the audience and incorporating their contributions must be found in order to make online events as lively and inclusive as possible.


The solution

Virtual events have introduced new ways of interacting with one’s audience which make it possible to collect participants’ opinions, experiences and knowledge in a practical way. Polls and quizzes generally make most sense for events with a larger audience. It should be considered beforehand if using a poll fits the kind of event you are planning.

Polls are a versatile tool that can be used for various purposes and during various stages of the event. For example, at the beginning of the event, polls can be used to get a rough overview of the composition of the audience, assess the mood, motivation, expectations or prior knowledge on a topic.  During an event, polls are useful to activate or re-engage passive audience members. At the end of an event, polls can be used to collect feedback about participants’ satisfaction with the event.

One advantage of virtual polling tools is that results can be shared and commented on immediately. The responses are visualized (in word clouds, graphs, etc.). The results can be used either as a snapshot of the current situation or as an introduction to further discussions.


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.



Tools and technical aspects

There are many free or paid tools available online, some of which are more suitable for live quizzes, others to create feedback forms and yet others to visualize topics to be discussed. Depending on the objective of the poll, it is crucial to compare different tools beforehand to get an idea of which one would be most suitable. At the same time, balance the need to choose the most appropriate polling tool with the need to not overwhelm the participants by switching between too many different polling tools.

Data protection considerations should be respected.

Other considerations

  • Think about the language diversity in the audience. If necessary, translate the question (and answers) in relevant languages to make sure each respondent understands them.
  • Practice in advance explaining to the audience how to access the poll, especially if the poll is not integrated in the videoconferencing tool you use (e.g., to scan a QR-code, enter a pin code, via smart phones, etc.) and demonstrate the access via shared screen or in the chat.
  • Give an orientation about how much time participants have to complete the poll
  • Plan sufficient time during the online event for the poll, as the participants will need a few minutes to access the poll, think about how to respond, etc.
  • In live polls, plan enough time to comment on the responses in order to ensure a lively interaction.
  • If the tool allows it, you may want to insert pictures to visualize certain topics.
  • If participants are required to take quizzes over a longer time period, e.g. in the context of web-based training, it is best to use a platform that generates an automatic grading and summary of the responses. To keep track of who has taken the quiz, add the option for respondents to enter their e-mail address.


Sophie Salimkhani

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