Traditional Audience Polling Keypads vs. Phone-based Text Polling
©2008 Corbin Ball Associates
Audience-polling systems are a great way of finding out what the audience is thinking and engage them as well. The challenge for many planners, however, is that is has been expensive to rent these systems – often more than US$10/per person per day.
The good news is that the price has come down for rental and/or purchase of these devices while, at the same time, they have become easier to set-up and used. Most commonly traditional audience polling systems are rented as a service (set-up/operation of the equipment is included) but easy-to-use "turn-key" purchase or rental options are becoming more commonly available.
A new development in the past year has been the emergence of phone-based text message polling designed for events. Similar to American Idol text voting, these systems allow audience members to text their votes, which are tallied in real-time to a website. This website can be projected in the meeting room for all to see the responses.
In my speaking programs, I have used both standard audience polling systems and phone-based text voting systems several times. There are benefits and challenges of each. This article will compare and contrast these differences.
Traditional audience polling keypads:
Text message phone-based audience polling
· Audience polling keypad can respond very quickly to multiple questions – with response time from question to projected answers as little as 15 seconds.
· Due to short turn-around of questions, many can be asked during a presentation.
· Keypads are simple to use, and are not disruptive to an audience.
· Complex questions can be asked including: Yes/no, multiple-choice, Likert scale, demographic comparisons (i.e. age/gender/occupation), priority ranking and more.
· Traditional keypad polling systems have been around for years. The interface for projection is typically very polished looking. Bar-chart results can be animated, for example, and be branded to match the theme of the event.
· Connectivity is not a problem. These systems are designed to receive every vote from every keypad in the room instantly and very reliably. There are no “calling costs” per person.
· Higher cost (can be up to US$10/person/day.
· Gear (the keypads, antennae, and the controlling system) is required. Commonly this is provided as a service involving a technician to set things up and run it.
· Usually keypad only respond to Yes/No or multiple-choice questions.
· These systems are designed for voting only. They do not designed to receive data on other aspects of the conference.
· The time taken (it usually takes at least a minute or more to get a response to a single question).
· Due to the time taken, it is almost impossible to ask several rapid-fire questions using these systems.
· The disruption – it is novel – and you need to quiet down people after a vote. Also, with the phones now on, audience members are tempted to check their email.
· These systems lend themselves to simple multiple choice or True/False questions. However, open text options are more easily available (see below).
· These provide relatively crude projected screen interface – the results are comparatively crude looking when projected
· There are sometimes connectivity issues (cell phone coverage is not everywhere). International texting may be costly. Also, there can be a cost per person to send text messages.
· Low cost and ubiquity (everyone carries around a text-messaging capable phone).
· There are few set up issues. You can simply ask everyone to pull out their phones, give them brief instructions, and off you go. All that is needed is a computer with an internet connection and a data projector.
· Probably the most significant advantage is that it works well with text questions – an electronic Q&A session.
· Text message systems can be used for conference agendas, group announcements, shuttle schedules, exhibit product information and other “on demand” requests for information.
Benefits of both systems:
Increased audience interest and participation: Participants enjoy seeing their collective beliefs about things they care about. These systems provide immediate feedback that, when used properly, captures the audience attention.
Anonymity: Hand raising or verbal responses can be biased, especially when addressing sensitive material. As audience polling responses are non-verbal and can be anonymous, the responses tend to be honest with fuller participation. Candid and confidential responses to issues and ideas are encouraged.
Democracy of input: As everyone has a keypad, everyone gets a say, rather than a few vocal participants.
Increased productivity: As everyone gets a say, without everyone having to vocalize it, substantial savings of time can be accomplished.
Increased ownership of the responses by the audience: The immediate results contribute to a sense of "ownership" and responsibility for results through a more democratic process and give the presenter immediate and honest feedback.
Immediate feedback: Results are tabulated, and graphically displayed immediately after each question enhancing group understanding, increasing meeting efficiency and stimulating discussion. The group and presenter can act on the feedback while it is fresh.
Improved understanding: Understanding and comprehension can be easily tested in a training session. In addition, measurement of degree is more accurate. There is a difference between people answering they are "uncomfortable" and "very uncomfortable." A true range of opinions can be expressed much more accurately than when having everyone raise their hands.
The trend will be toward mobile web based polling (such as VisionTree.com) – but this is a couple of years away as the general adoption of iPhone-like rich mobile web browsers is relatively low now.