At any large convention, attendees have several if not dozens of speakers to choose from. For the average attendee, it is often not a matter of choosing whom he or she might find interesting; rather which speaker makes the most sense to attend live compared with listening to or watching the recording later or simply downloading the presentation slides.
Conference speakers and organizers therefore should increasingly look to polling as a practical way to stand out at conferences.
Polling makes a session or conference not only more interesting to attend live, it also helps attendees better retain the information they hear than if they were sitting there passively listening.
- Incorporating polling software directly into the conference application has only recently become possible. This means conference organizers no longer need to provide a dedicated polling device for each participant. The conference app installed on iPhones, Android phones, Blackberries as well as iPad tablet devices doubles as a controller.
- Polling information is instant, so everyone can see immediately what those in the room think.
- Many speakers often have far more material and thoughts to share, so live polling can be used to better understand what the audience most wants to hear. Polling eliminates the need for yes or no questions answered through raised hands.
- A marketer teaching about blogging for example, might benefit from knowing how long each member in the room has been a blogger.
- Because the data is anonymous and does not require verbal participation, even the more introverted in the room participate more frequently.
- The conference apps allow the polling data to be sent to users at the conclusion of the session.
- Instead of sending out a session survey to everyone and receiving a tiny percentage back, presenters can ask attendees a few key questions at the conclusion and get everyone to weigh in before they walk out the door. This is another way to quiz the class on the information that really stuck with them.
- While polling shares the results with the audience in real time, surveys do not necessarily share the results in this way. However, surveys do allow meeting organizers to obtain access to survey results immediately, unlike paper surveys that involved manual labor and days or weeks to tabulate results.
- Polling within the event application also saves money. A variety of polling tools and technologies exist, but incorporating the capability directly into the mobile application makes it easy and more cost-effective to use at a conference.
- The International Legal Technology Association 2011 Rev-Elation conference in Nashville, Tennessee for example, conducted several polls throughout a five-day conference on topics ranging from leadership, innovations in technology, new business strategies, and a variety of current legal issues. Attendees were encouraged to participate in polls in order to increase the level of engagement and awareness on current topics. This added more relevance to the attendee experience, and as a result, they became content creators engaging with the events brand, instead of just listening to speakers.
Although mobile apps provide a great opportunity to interact with audiences, several challenges still exist:
- It is important that the venue has a robust Wi-Fi architecture in place, especially for very large sessions as polling services require two way communication between the end users and the server infrastructure that tabulates and displays the results.
- Some attendees still do not own a smartphone or even a mobile phone at all and of course these people still deserve to have their opinion heard too.
- Some event organizers have eliminated this problem by providing a device, like an iPod Touch, to all participants to create a consistent, holistic experience at the conference.
- If providing each attendee with a mobile device is not possible, a rental pool of mobile devices can be made available for those with older or incompatible devices or who have no mobile device at all.