When you’ve been invited to give a presentation and you walk out on the stage—or step up onto a wooden box at the front of a farmer’s shed—and you look into the eyes of the audience, wouldn’t it be great if you could read their minds to know just what they wanted to hear from you? No, we don’t mean some kind of science fiction mind control, but close to it… how do you quickly create an online poll and how can you use surveys most effectively?
What people might not know about John, is that he loves polls, or online surveys to be more correct. He just loves being able to ask a bunch of people a few questions and hear their answers. It is a great way to engage people, especially when you do something meaningful with the responses.
John says that a long time ago when he was the president of APEN, and the decision was made to change the constitution, as it was hampering APEN’s effectiveness. It was forcing all regional chapters to manage their own bank accounts, including getting them audited each year.
The answer was fairly obvious—just amalgamate them and have a central set of accounts. But there were some other things that could also be changed at the same time, such as better regional representation. Since the committee was going to the effort of changing the constitution, John decided to engage the APEN members to gain their feedback before the AGM.
The survey had just four questions. There was a rather long preamble, which was in the email message that then had the link to the survey. Two options were proposed—keep things as they were or moving to a cluster model.
The first question asked how comfortable they were staying with the status quo. The rating scale was from 1 to 10 and there was an opportunity for people to add further comments. The second question asked how comfortable they were with the proposed cluster model, with the same rating scale and instead of just asking for general comments, APEN members were asked what elements they liked about the cluster model and then the elements that concerned them. The third question then asked for suggestions of other models that might work. And finally, the fourth question simply asked for any other comments.
John doesn’t recall the actual number of responses now, but what he does remember is that we were inundated with generally very constructive suggestions. It took the committee ages to wade through them all, but the proposal was tweaked based on that feedback. APEN then took that modified proposal back to the members and used another survey to gain their feedback. While not everyone was 100% happy with it, John recalls that the AGM when the motion to change the constitution was put forward. It was back in 2003 and it was APEN’s tenth anniversary and the conference was held in Hobart that year. It was a great conference! Frank Vanclay was the convenor and he did a great job organising it. At the AGM, it all went through very quickly! Like in a minute, as all the hard work had been done beforehand. It was almost like an anti-climax!
It’s just like that saying, go slow at the beginning, so as to go fast at the end. This is a great example of using a survey not just at the end of an event to evaluate it.
We started this post talking about polls, and technically they’re just a special type of survey where you can give an easy response, such as yes or no, or which of five colours do you prefer most. This is what we call a closed question—where there is just a single response required. The simplest way to do a poll with a live audience is of course to just ask them a question. So if you’re giving a talk about exporting fruit to a particular country, you could ask those in the audience who have been there to raise their hands. That then involves them and gives you an idea how familiar your audience is with that country. You might then tweak your presentation and provide more or less background information, based on their response. It’s almost as though you were mind reading!
And that is what simple polls do. They give us information that we can use to improve what we are doing. In this day and age though, we think we can do better than just raising our hands. Just about everyone in our audiences have a smartphone these days, so let’s put them to good use.
John loves using Poll Everywhere or Sli.do to engage with audiences. Whether it’s at a physical meeting or an online meeting, he will get the audience answering questions that helps him better understand their background and motivation. It’s also a great way to take questions at the end, as you can just ask them to type them into the poll. Other audience members can then upvote the questions they want answered or add their own. As the presenter, you can project the results onto the screen at the front of the room and then start answering the questions with the greatest amount of votes. How democratic is that?
And it’s so easy to create polls. You just have to go to the Poll Everywhere website, or Sli.do, or whatever program you want to use. And there are lots of good explainer videos on the websites, for both organisers and attendees. You can create a free account and then within a minute you can choose the type of question you want to ask. It can be a multiple choice question, a word cloud, or a map for people to indicate where they’re located. There are lots of templates that you can use and you can easily tweak the words and graphics if you want.
If you do this before your event you can insert the poll questions into your PowerPoint presentation, so that when you display that slide, it shows the website address. Usually this is really short and easy to type in. All they have to do is enter the code for your poll, which can be a number or a few letters. Then almost magically the poll question can be seen on their device and they can easily respond. They usually don’t need to sign in or download an app. Of course there are apps for most of the poll software, and if you’re engaging with people during a two or three day conference, then it might be worthwhile helping them download and configure the app. Otherwise the website works just fine.
Online polls and more detailed surveys are great tools! They help us easily gain information about our audience. And they are so easy to set up and use. If you haven’t already tried them, you’ll be kicking yourself afterwards, as they are so good to use.
Well, you’ve read our thoughts, now we’d like to hear yours! Add a comment below the post and tell us about your experiences with online polls, including any tips and further ideas about them. We don’t want this to be just a one-way conversation – join in by sharing your thoughts and ideas with us!
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Here are some of the more common polling and survey providers…