How Polls and Surveys Can Increase Audience Participation

Polling is a great way to keep your audience involved. The Public Speaker shares two inspiring and creative examples of how surveying listeners can lead to imrpoved participation and engagement.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #276

Imagine this: You’re sitting in church one Sunday morning listening to a sermon. The pastor takes a brief pause and says, “Would everyone please get out your smartphones and start texting?” You think you must have misunderstood, but then you look down the row and see everyone texting openly. What’s going on?.


A couple of times a year, Pastor Alex Kirk asks his congregation to do just that. He uses a polling software application (PollEverwhere) to encourage churchgoers to help him deliver his message. I recently talked with Pastor Alex to find out more about his use of polling in church.

I’ve discussed the benefits of using polling to enhance your presentations before. We went overboth hi- and low-tech methods of polling and about what you gain by gathering information from your audience in real time.

Today, we’ll take a closer look at Pastor Alex’s example. Then we’ll talk about some innovative ways polling is being used in education.

Polling Software at Houses of Worship

Pastor Alex likes to provide audience members with clipboards of handouts and pens and asks them to look at the passage they’re studying and make some observations. He wants to show them how to become good observers and interpreters. After about 5 minutes of reading, he has them answer some questions and make notes.

While the audience is busy circling, highlighting, and noting, Pastor Alex puts a poll question on the big screen in front of them. He likes to use open-ended questions to foster thoughtful answers. One example is:

"What observations strike you from this passage?"

While traditional polling makes use of questions with a limited number of responses, such as True and False, multiple choice, or number ratings, I think Pastor Alex’s use of open-ended questions help get his audience thinking and talking (or in this case, texting).  Pastor Alex asks the audience to text him their answers. Here’s what happens next:

“After 5 minutes is up, I read over the texted in responses and then I invite others to offer their observations.  Then we have a very open and lively discussion with all 150-190 people in the room that's driven largely by the observations that are made in real time rather than the preacher guy just telling them what it says from up-front.“

One big reason Pastor Alex likes to use polling software is that it helps people who otherwise might not participate to get involved. Many people would not raise their hand to answer a question in a crowd, but would feel comfortable texting their answer to the pastor. It also gives individuals more ownership over the message. 


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.