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March 21st, 2011

What WAS that real-time polling service I used?

By Shel Holtz

I kicked off my presentation at the social media conference at the Mayo Clinic's Jacksonville, Florida facility with a poll. It would have been simple to simply ask for a show of hands, but since my session was on the rise of the mobile platform for healthcare communications, I opted to make it more digitally interactive.

The question I posed was whether the members of the audience use mobile -- phone or tablet -- to access web content. The PowerPoint slide showed the question, the multiple answer choices, the key word to text for each answer and the number for texting the answer.

As the group texted their answers, they were able to watch the results in close to real time appear on the screen:

After my talk, I checked the Twitter stream and found as many questions about how I did that as I did about the substance of my presentation. I can't say I was surprised; that's pretty much always the response I get when I use this real-time, cloud-based polling system. In fact, it was my response when I first saw it used by a GM executive at a Ragan conference in Detroit. It was that experience that led me to try it for myself.

The service, Poll Everywhere, makes it easy for anybody to build into their presentations the kind of audience response capabilities that used to require special hardware at every seat -- and a lot of money. There's a free version that lets you process up to 30 responses. The version I was using, "Presenter," is $65 per month and handles up to 250 respones to a poll, but also lets you create custom keywords. You can spend up to $1,400 a month for the "Platinum" account, with up to 20,000 responses and a host of other features.

It's ridiculously easy to create a poll. You start out by choosing the type of poll: multiple choice, open-ended text responses or a "goal poll" (the kind that shows the thermometer temperature rising as you get more input, such as pledges to contribute to a charitable cause).

So far, I've only used multiple choice. The poll creation screen includes the question, the choices, and the keywords you want to use for each answer. I have to admit that it's getting to be a creative challenge to come up with keywords that aren't already taken by another Poll Everywhere customer.

Once you're done entering the data, you indicate how many times each participant can respond, what kind of reply message they can receive, and how they can respond. In my presentation, I limited responses to text messages, but they can also tweeet, enter their answers in a text field at Poll4.com, or use a web widget that you can embed on a web page.

You can also let anybody respond or restrict responses to registered participants.

When you're done, you download a PowerPoint presentation that includes some information you can use to explain the process to your audience, along with the poll slide itself. As long as you're connected to the Net, the answers begin to appear immediately after your audience begins entering them.

As I noted at the beginning of this post, I could have just as easily asked for a show of hands -- and it would have taken less time. But as long as tools like Poll Everywhere remain new, using it really wakes people up and focuses them on the presentation. It also presents accurate data. Rather than saying, "Well, it looks like about half of you agree with the statement," you're able to say, "Exactly 54% of you agree with the statement." It also makes it easy to save the results to compare them against another audience's response to the same question.

And it's just plain cool to watch those bars grow as the system records more answers.

If you do presentations internally or to outside audiences, give it a try -- the free version will work just fine for audiences of 30 or less. If it works well for you, you can upgrade.

Here's a video prepared for an education audience about how Poll Everywhere works:

Shel Holtz is a member of the External Advisory Board for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media.

Tags: Platforms, Software, & Tools

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