Why should you care about polling questions? Here are the different values you can get out of asking polling questions during meetings and events.

  • For event organizers: create an interactive and engaging experience for your attendees, giving them a reason to participate and be there physically rather than simply listening to the presentation. Capture important information that can be used and analyzed after the event. Ensure quality during the session, avoid relying solely on the quality of the speaker.

  • For speakers: understand who’s your audience, what they know, what they want to know, how they think and gather their ideas in a structured fashion. Use all these elements to adapt the delivery of your speech for an engaging, captivating and successful session

  • For participants: have your voice being heard and useful to the discussion, see how you compare to other attendees and discover different ideas/points of view from people in similar or complementary positions

Polls can take different forms and should be designed with the context of the session in mind. Things that can influence the design of your polling questions:

  • One-time event vs recurring event

Recurring events are perfect to ask questions on which you can build analytics over time. If you ask the same question on 20 different events with each a unique crowd, you can start building valuable statistics and analyze if and how different environment factors might affect what people answer.

For one-time events, you might want to emphasize even more the importance of the information you’re presenting to attendees. Create key moments right as you’re about to present a crucial and surprising data point or fact to the crowd by asking what the audience would instinctively think, then do the reveal. That will captivate the audience and reinforce your position as someone who understands the topic at hand. 

  • Format of the session

A keynote session doesn’t necessarily have the time to do a lot of back and forth between the stage and the crowd. What you should aim to do with your polls here is to extract a general sentiment from the audience. A word cloud for instance, that will give you visually in a few keywords what the audience thinks is very effective for the keynote speaker to understand globally where people in the room stand on the topic.

Breakout sessions, workshops, brainstorming activities on the other hand will typically aim to get many more ideas/answers from the audience. The goal is to list as many things as possible then discuss what we should keep. Polls that invite discussion, open-ended answers, quizzes, ranking questions,... all fit very well here. 

  • Internal vs External audience

With an internal audience, you have the luxury of being able to ask more precise questions on what employees think of the actions going on within the company/organization. Polls can help you not only understand if there are gaps between the vision management is trying to push and what employees actually live day-to-day, but it also helps build a “view of the current state of the organization” as seen by employees.

With an external audience, you’ll want to use polls to better understand which content struck them the most, what was less of interest and what was missing. The goal here is to understand what are the strengths and weaknesses of your event in terms of content. From there you can continuously improve from event to event and make sure you always stay relevant. This will give more reasons to those external attendees to keep coming back to you should they ever seek knowledge or advice.

  • Number of attendees

The smaller the crowd the easiest it will be to have people weigh in and thus the design of your polling questions should have in mind that it will be possible (and potentially desirable) to invite voters to explain in more details their choice or answer. Polling questions that are labeled simply but that are controversial are great here. 

With a larger crowd, you should utilize polls to gather information that would otherwise take too much time or simply impossible to get if you were to do things manually. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple show of hands unless you need a precise headcount (polls will give you that instantly). Ranking polls or questions where attendees can choose multiple answers among 4+ answers are typically great here because those are very difficult to achieve without a polling system. 

Things you should ask yourself when creating polling questions:

  • As an attendee, why should I care to answer this question?

It might seem obvious but unfortunately is oftentimes forgotten. Ask yourself why would an attendee bother taking their phone out, go to an app or website and answer the poll. What do they have to gain by doing that? If you make it clear that their answers are needed and going to impact in some way the session, meeting or event, you will increase the likelihood of people taking the time to answer your polls.

  • How are the results utilized during the session?

How are we using the results during the session? Are we simply acknowledging them with a “great”, and moving on? This is very important as it will impact how people keep answering polls throughout the meeting. If they see the polling results are used and relevant to the content, it will create a virtuous circle with more interactivity as the event goes on. You could use the results to create a surprise before revealing a shocking fact or data point, or use the results to change the approach or the shoes in which you want to present the content. Results can also be used to select the content that is going to be presented (“choose your topic” type of question). Understanding the purpose of your polls, whether it’s educational, to insist on a data point or fact, to get to know the audience, or to ask for ideas, will help you craft the best questions.

  • Will my attendees be curious to see what other participants have voted?

Ideally, you want your questions to instill curiosity in your audience, as to have them want to know what people around them think. “Am I the odd one here?”, “Does everyone have the same issues as I do?”, “Are there things that I haven’t anticipated that might very much come my way?” are all questions that you should aim to make your attendees ask themselves. It will ensure that people will be paying close attention to the results, and what you have to say. 

  • Can I leverage this data after the event?

This doesn’t affect the attendees as much but can have a great impact on your organization. If the polling results you collect allow you to better understand your own organization, the expectations of your attendees, the direction an industry might be taking, what influences people you’re working with,... it will help you improve your events and allow you to potentially create additional resources throughout the year that can be consumed not only by attendees that were at your event but by a larger community that you might reach. 

Examples of questions

Some examples of polling scenarios that have been working very well:

  • Pre/Post debate comparison

At medical events, polling questions have been used in the following way:

The session consist of a debate between 2 doctors on how to best tackle a specific medical scenario. There isn’t necessarily a universal answer, but rather multiple ways to approach the problem. After explaining the scenario but before the 2 doctors present their arguments, the audience is asked to answer whether they think method A is best or if method B should be preferred. At this point, we simply gather votes but do not share results with attendees.

We then invite the 2 doctors on stage, the first one defending method A and the second one advocating for method B. After the presentations from the 2 doctors, we poll again the audience with the exact same question, which method do you think is best: method A or method B. 

We then display the results of the poll launched before the session, and compare the results with the one after the session. It highlights the impact of each doctor's argumentation, and shows if there was any shift in the audience's opinion. Going back to the points mentioned above, it sparks curiosity among attendees, the results serve as an element of discussion at the end of the session and results are relevant to the organizers to understand what content is the most convincing to their attendees. 

  • Choose your session

For this example, the context is a session where an industry veteran and expert is on stage and the audience is composed of different individuals representing various roles within that industry. 

The speaker is ready to talk about many different topics related to the industry (common challenges, what the future holds, strategies to be used, tips from experience,...), but doesn’t have time to cover every bit of information during the hour that is allocated. The speaker starts the session with a polling question asking the audience to choose what they want to be covered out of the 8 different topics available. After ranking all the topics, the speaker starts at topic number 1 and goes down the list as time allows. 

  • Voting for startups presentations

The event is a one day meeting where multiple investors are invited to watch multiple startups present their project. The day is split in 4 segments representing 4 different sectors, and the goal is to gather investors feedback and create meaningful connections between startups and investors when relevant. 

During this event, investors are asked to evaluate each startup after their presentation. The evaluation poll has 5 elements for which investors can give between 1 to 5 stars (relevance, business model, feasibility, go-to-market strategy, team), and they can leave a comment if desired. Those results are not shared directly with the whole audience, but are used later on to give feedback to the startups and create connections with investors when relevant. 

Moreover, at the end of each segment a ranking poll is launched and all investors rank the different startups in that segment in their order of preference. Those results are shared live with the investors and it allows them to see if there are some clear winners that everyone seems to be interested in.

  • Word cloud at yearly sales kickoff event

At the beginning of every new year, this company starts and ends their week-long sales kick off event with the following two respective questions: “what do you hope to get out of this week?” and “what is the most important thing that you’ll take away from this event?”. 

After more than 5 years using these polls as openers and closers of their sales kickoff events, not only have they been able to see when they’ve managed to meet their employees expectations with the event, but they’ve seen the evolution of their employees answers over the years. This has been used as reference points in their opening keynote presentations to show that they are listening to their employees and are willing to take action when there is a disconnect between what they hoped to accomplish and what attendees answered.