How to Use Polling to Keep Your Audience Engaged

Polling is a great way to keep your audience involved. The Public Speaker explains the different ways to take a poll of your listeners.

Lisa B. Marshall,
May 23, 2014
Episode #252

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If I ask you to take a poll, you’ll probably think I work for a political campaign or I’m trying to sell you something. But polling is a great tool for public speakers too. Conducting a poll is an effective way to gather information and involve your audience. >

A friend of mine recently attended a parent meeting at our children’s school. When she walked in, she was handed a palm-sized clicker with a number on it.

“What’s this?” she asked the office assistant.

“That’s your clicker. You’ll be using it to answer questions during the presentation.”

That got her attention!  She decided that if she was going to be answering questions, she’d better stay alert and even picked a seat closer to the screen.

You see, before the presentation even started, the thought of taking a poll pulled her in. Additionally, she told me that she listened more carefully to each segment of the presentation so she could answer the questions correctly.

She said, “I didn’t want to be that parent who wasn’t paying attention and answered the questions incorrectly!”

Today, we’ll talk about how polling can enhance your presentation and the best ways to do it.

3 Reasons to Take a Poll of Your Audience

Reason #1:  To learn more about your listeners

It’s always helpful for you, the speaker, to know some information about who is in the audience - where they come from, if they have attended this event before, what they do for a living, their educational background, etc.  Of course, you should learn as much as possible about your audience ahead of time, but often polling just before the presentation is the only way to get key information. By asking the right questions, you can better choose examples and anecdotes to fit the audience. It also works the other way around - to help the audience to understand more about the population of the room.

Reason #2:  To create breaks

Let’s face it: our attention spans are not very long. In fact, research indicates the average attention span is getting shorter all the time. One study showed that over the past 10 years our attention spans have dropped from 12 minutes to just 5!

You can use polls to create intentional breaks in your program. The interaction can energize your audience.

Reason #3:  To measure or reinforce audience understanding

Polls can also be use to measure or reinforce the understanding of your audience.  Unless it’s a classroom, keep the questions basic – it shouldn't feel like a test. Instead, it’s a barometer that will tell you if you need to cover something in more depth or move on to the next topic.

Also, if you’re unsure of your audience’s prior knowledge of the topic, you can ask basic questions to start a segment. If most people answer correctly, you may not need to spend as much time on that section.


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