Take a Poll to Engage the Audience Early During Your Panel Discussion

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The easiest way to engage the audience early during a panel presentation is to take a poll – especially if you don’t know the cast of characters in the room.

You can poll the audience through a number of ways:

  • Round-Robin. Go around the room and ask each person to state his or her position – but only if you have a small number of people in the audience!
  • Show of Hands. Ask those who agree with your question to raise their hands.
  • Thumbs. Have those who agree with the point you just made show you a thumbs-up and those who don’t a thumbs-down. A sideways thumb can mean “undecided.”
  • Stand Up. Ask those in agreement or who find the statement to be true to stand up. Those who find your statement to be false can remain seated.
  • Noise. Clap to agree and stomp to disagree. Or, if confidentiality is important, ask those who agree to hum. You’ll find those who are passionate will hum loudly!
  • Shout. Say “Of course!” if you agree and “No way!” if you don’t. The volume can also show the strength of the person’s commitment.
  • Response Cards. Ask participants to select and hold up the appropriate color-coded card/paper that signifies their response. These are ideal for multiple-choice and true-false questions or those with a range of responses (agree/neutral/disagree; high/medium/low).
  • Wave Your Flag.  Similar to the response cards, ask the audience to wave the appropriate color flag that signifies their response.  Try using green for “agree”, yellow for “neutral or have some concerns”, and red for “disagree”.
  • Continuum. Have one side of the room take one stance (definitely) and the other side the polar opposite (no way!), or think of your own clever scale (“vested” to “don’t care”).   (I used this technique when starting my presentation of the results of the 2014 Panel Survey.  You can watch it here).
  • Image 1Electronic Polling.  Many speakers are using PollEverywhere, but if you are using it for an audience larger than 40 people, there is a fee. I’ve been using  sli.do with great results AND there is no charge for any size audience! (BTW, if you want the information branded or private, there is a fee.). I can create an event in less than a minute, while participants get just one simple link to join in using their smart phones. No need to install anything — you just need a WiFi connection. The audience can ask questions and vote for their favorite. You can even moderate the questions to remove the junk (e.g., “hi mom!”). It’s a breeze to use and I can even take a poll on the fly in the middle of the session!  Sli.do is also the only polling software that has a Google Glass app — imagine reading audience feedback in real-time! (Of course, that would be a sizable investment for the Google Glass, but how cool would you look?)

How to take a poll?  It’s easy!

Ask the Question and Model the Behavior you want to see.  For example, “Who here….” and while you are asking the question, raise your hand high in the air, waive your green flag, or stomp your foot.  This sends a clear signal that you are expecting those in the audience who will say “yes” will perform that behavior with you.

Report the Result.  You may be the only person in the room who can see all the results, and inquiring minds want to know.  Share the results in the form of a statistic: “That looks like thirty folks, so that’s 10 percent of the group.”  (Want to make it a tad bit funny?  Report out the numbers in a precise way, even though it is obviously a best guesstimate.  For example, you could say “27 folks agree, and that is 13.3 percent of the group.”)
Follow Up.  You can zoom in on a couple of people near you and ask them some additional questions to get the conversation going. OR, if the poll turns out to be heavily weighted in one direction, then turn to the panelists and ask them for a reason WHY the audience is wrong!  For example, if you ask the audience, “How many of you believe salespeople are dishonest?” and 80 percent of the audience agrees, turn to a panelist and ask, “Give me one reason they’re wrong.” (Thanks to Brad Philips for this idea!)

Related Articles

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How and When to Manage Audience Q&A

How to Keep the Audience Engaged During A Panel with One Simple Trick

For more information about how to moderate a lively & informative panel discussion, check out our free 7-part video series or our other resources to help you organize, moderate, or be a panel member.

Kristin Arnold



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Kristin ArnoldKristin Arnold
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.
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