How to Prepare Speakers to Use Audience Response Apps for Greater Attendee Engagement


The greatest advantage of event apps and audience response apps is to give your attendees a voice.

Instead of passing around microphones in a large audience of 1,000 attendees, an event app or audience response app can be used to capture hundreds of questions instantly from curious attendees.

Equally important – activities such as brainstorming can be scaled up to hundreds and thousands of participants with the same rich participation that you get from groups of 8 to 10 people. While these technologies are loaded with capabilities – it’s very likely that most of these technologies will be new to your speakers. This post provides a guide to help you prepare your presenters to use these tools in their presentations and workshops.

To give their event session audiences a voice, more event producers are asking their speakers, facilitators and panel moderators to use interactive technology, such as audience response systems.  But are speakers prepared to use them?

Step 1: Create a case for change

Most speakers gravitate to the PowerPoint lecture-style presentation, because that’s the content delivery format that they know. If they are in a large corporation they are probably used to creating PowerPoint documents that double as informational documents that are shared via email as well as in presentations to small groups.

But in today’s world, event speakers need to do more than just lecture to keep people engaged and connected to their content and ideas.

Research shows that attendees stop paying attention after 10 minutes in the average conference session. And, it’s worse online! Online attendees are 1 click away from doing anything else on the Internet…like watching cat videos. How can you compete with cat videos?

When attendees spend 4-6 hours per day in conference sessions sitting and listening, most attendees are going to be lucky to remember three key messages from a speaker. So all of those detailed slides with secondary messages and supporting arguments will easily be forgotten.

Interactive meeting technologies such as audience response apps and event apps help with retention because they engage your attendees in a conversation. When you ask them a poll question or open-ended question they become participants in a conversation. The more that you can get attendees to participate the more likely they will be to retain the speakers key messages.

Related – What is Audience Engagement?

Step 2: Understand how much time you should allocate for attendee engagement

Most speakers plan for a 50 minute presentation and 10 minutes of Q&A. Inevitably they go over time and leave only 2-3 minutes for Q&A. That’s bad.

We recommend that your speakers plan for 20 minutes of interactive time for every 40 minutes of lecture time.

Step 3: Share common attendee engagement tools for creating conversations

Above I mentioned that your speakers are most likely not familiar with all of the tools available to them or how they work. I recommend that you provide them with a list of the audience response system (ARS) capabilities in your event app or audience response app.

Here is a list of the most common conversation tools that you should expect in your audience response app:

  • Live Polls
  • Interactive Q&A
  • Trivia Games
  • Discussion Topics
  • Idea Voting
  • Word clouds
  • Voting
  • Photo Captions

Regardless of your vendor you should have access to most of these conversation tools. Each one will work a little differently and all of them can be used to help your speaker’s achieve their conversation goals.

You may want to share examples of each with your speakers. So they can see how they work.

Related – 10 Ways to Visualize User Generated Content

Related –  Part 2: 10 Ways to Increase Event Attendee Engagement with Interactive Technology

Step 4: Recommend conversation templates that give speakers a roadmap for planning their attendee engagement activities

Here are 10 examples of conversation templates that might help.

Reveal Research: Before showing the results in the room, have the attendee’s answer the same questions to see where they stand. Review the answers after each question.

Pick a Path Case Study: Let attendees make key decisions in a case study presentation and see if they would have been successful. This can be executed with a combination of polling and idea generation. Present attendees with scenarios and let them make a decision about how they would proceed. Then, reveal what happened in the case study. And suggest a best course of action.

Comparison Word Cloud: The goal here is to get attendees to see how language changes from the start of a presentation to the end. Start by getting them to share the first few words that come to mind when they think of a topic. At the end of the presentation, repeat the exercise and see how the word clouds have changed. The second word cloud should reflect the language that you want people to use after they leave the room.

Compare and Contrast: Let attendees discover similarities and differences between two like seemingly similar things. These best way to execute this is through a series of poll questions. Give attendees three options: Option A, Option B or Both. Then through your questions allow them to share their opinions – while the speaker reveals the best answer. This could be used to compare two technology platforms (IOS and Android) or doing business in the US vs South America or comparing two different patient treatment methods.

Evaluate Projects: Let project teams present their project ideas (or results) for the audience to evaluate. Let audience members evaluate back-to-back pitches and proposals from their mobile device. This is commonly done with a series of surveys that are pushed to attendee’s phones. These surveys usually ask the audience to rate 2-3 different characteristics. Optionally – you can just have one live poll at the end to pick a winner.

Put Panelists in the Hot Seat: Turn up the heat on panelists by getting them to address hard questions from the audience. Audience Response Apps give you the opportunity to collect hundreds of questions. Your moderators can use this technology to filter through lots of similar questions and find the best-worded questions. This is particularly useful for organizations that are closing plants or merging operations. (Read more on interactive q&a)

Brainstorming: It’s easy to generate ideas and pick the best option with just 10 people, but with audience response apps you can do it with hundreds of people. Brainstorming is a process of capturing ideas, developing a evaluation criteria, rating the choices and picking a solution. By combining, idea generation, idea voting and live polling you can take an audience through all of these steps via the audience response app on their phone.

Simple, Fun Ice-Breakers: Using a word cloud or Caption This (Show people a photo and let them think up captions) is a fun way to get people thinking and active.

Massive Idea Collection: Create a series of topics around a problem you want to solve. Ask the attendees to share ideas around each topic. Then assign groups of people the responsibility for generating ideas around each topic. Present the ideas on the big screen. Optionally – you can have the audience vote for all of the ideas.

Sign up to Help: Many speakers are great at inspiring attendees – but they forget to convert that inspiration into action. Don’t waste all of that energy – prompt attendees with a signup form to capture a lead, volunteer for a project or signup to help.

Step 5: Help speakers craft meaningful discussion topics and questions

When it comes to open ended questions – you can ask any question via audience response apps and event apps to get a dialog going with your audience. But to get a dialog that helps you stimulate thinking, I recommend structuring questions with this formula:

“Discuss a _______ that __________.”

Here are some examples:

  • Discuss a leader that inspires you
  • Discuss a technology that you admire
  • Discuss an innovation that changed the world
  • Discuss a technology that you almost forgot
  • Discuss an innovation that you can’t stop thinking about

If you really want to create a dialog that will drive business change, here are 10 questions you can ask.

Step 6: Inform speakers how to integrate the audience response app and event app into their presentation

Here’s an example:

  • Before the event, a tech support person or team needs to setup your questions in the system and have them staged in order to support your presentation flow.
  • Add the questions to your slide deck to prompt you and the tech team. Then, the tech team will push the questions to the audience.
  • During your presentation, you should have a tech support person in the room with you who is either an employee of the event organizer, or someone from their hired audio-visual company.
  • If yours is the first session they are attending with the ARS, the audience will need some coaching on how to use it. After a few sessions, they should need less and less help. Ask to see how many do.
  • Attendees will be able to respond right away to your questions. Now you have dialog, and a better chance of keeping their attention.
  • When you are ready to see question results, ask the tech team to show the results. The results will be pushed to the attendees and to a confidence monitor for you to see as well. You can ask the tech team to send all questions, or choose only the most interesting questions.
  • Now you answer the questions or react to whatever content (idea voting, Word Cloud, discussion topics) your audience supplies.

Step 7: Provide speakers a task list for preparing for attendee engagement

To prevent your speakers from being overwhelmed, here is a short task list that will help.

  • Plan your session to have 10-20 minutes of engagement activities, including 5 minutes of Q&A.
  • Find out what ARS system and tech support your event organizer will have.
  • Select the engagement activity you will employ during your presentation. If you need ideas, use one of the conversation templates above, if your event’s ARS will support it.
  • Add questions to your slides (as a prompt) for the audience engagement.
  • Share your discussion questions, surveys, polls, etc with your event organizer.
  • If possible, practice using the ARS system before your session.
  • Arrive early to make sure that everything is setup as you expect.

Wrap up

If you made it this far, I hope this article will help you give your speakers the tools to engage your attendees and retain their attention by effectively integrating the available technology tools into your sessions.

If you’d like to see more about how you increase audience and attendee engagement in your events and trade show booths with our interactive games and event apps, feel free to contact us with questions or to discuss your event with one of SocialPoint’s Digital Strategists. We’ll help you generate more fun, excitement, and results.

Written by

Samuel J. Smith is a thought leader, researcher, speaker and award winning innovator on event technology. In 2011, BizBash Magazine added Sam to its annual innovators list. Since then, Sam has won awards from Exhibitor Magazine, IBTM World, RSVP MN, International Live Events Association and MPI for innovation in event technology.