Audience Polling in Groups – using ParticiPoll at International Workshops with the Warning Project

Ben Duncan, is an expert in risk and emergency communication with extensive experience of international cooperation in this area. Ben shares how he and colleagues in The Warning Project are using ParticiPoll to create an immersive learning experience at workshops, which are conducted globally.

The Warning Project is an independent partnership of leading international consultants and academics committed to helping organizations communicate more effectively during emergencies, and other high-risk events.


The Plenary session at a recent Warning Project workshop in Asia. Ben Duncan (far left) facilitates a discussion between the speakers and the audience.


What polling technology were you using before?

At previous events we used a technology that required the use of clickers. While great in some ways this technology has a number of drawbacks. Firstly no matter how diligent you are, there always seem to be clickers going missing after events.

It’s a challenge to keep track of this kind of hardware, especially as our workshops run over several days. Secondly we are a network of professionals travelling around the globe facilitating and presenting at workshops every month, it’s not easy to co-ordinate the management of an inventory of clicker devices with one another.

By the summer of 2017 it was becoming logistically impossible. Thirdly, we have varying audience sizes and from a scalability standpoint, managing hardware poses another challenge.


Why did you choose ParticiPoll?

Audience polling plays an important part in helping us achieve our goals in workshops, and we therefore decided to change our approach and invest in a technology that would help us overcome the logistical and practical challenges we had with our previous provider.

As our audiences all tend to have smartphones or laptops, we knew that a web-based polling technology that used audiences’ own devices would be the way forward.

The other requirements we had were that the technology had to be a) easy to use b) integrate directly into PowerPoint c) be reliable and stable d) scalable (be able to handle 10-100+ audience members.

We hired a PhD student to conduct a market survey for us. ParticiPoll ticked every box.


Can you give us some examples of how you are using ParticiPoll?

Our workshops, which we conduct globally, involve emergency simulation exercises, e.g. disease outbreaks. We use ParticiPoll to drive focused discussions amongst our audience members.

These are skilled experts in the field of emergency response, and when you have a room full of experts its good to get them talking. However, these discussions need to remain focused and ParticiPoll enables us to do this very effectively.


A group discussing their scenario prior to voting


Explain how you achieve this practically?

We split our audience into groups, provide them with a scenario in a plenary setting, and give them 3-4 options on how they would choose to respond to an emergency situation/disease outbreak. This sets the scene for a group discussion where members can share their views and then collectively decide and vote on an answer.

We then time the groups to come to a decision on their answer which applies the necessary pressure to get the group engaged, focused and coming to a conclusion to vote on.


One of the groups getting ready to place their vote on ParticiPoll, using a laptop


How does ParticiPoll help you achieve your meeting/workshop goals?

Our audiences can often be a diverse group, with different experiences of different types of emergencies, different sectors (e.g., civil defense or public health) and come from different countries.

So in these situations, having a group work and the opportunity to vote for answers brings about deep and enriching conversations.

Nonetheless, we want their conversations to remain focused, and due to time pressure of requiring a vote, our audience members remain on task. Different approaches and perspectives are shared, which even we learn from. There are strong views on certain subjects.

Personally, I think the peer-to-peer learning it facilitates is one of the biggest advantages that using audience polling brings. It helps make our workshops an immersive learning experience.


Group discussion in action


How do you select the polling questions to use?

When planning, depending on who the participants are and where our workshops are taking place geographically, we will define topics and questions on areas we want people to discuss.

For example, the topics could include “managing uncertainty” “how to communicate when you have incomplete information” “coordinating communication with your partners” and “working effectively with politicians”.

We then develop scenarios where problems arise in each of these areas. We provide a number of possible solutions and get the audience involved in answering this in groups, using timed discussion to come to a voting conclusion.


Co-facilitator Melinda Frost (right) gets feedback from one of the Discussion Groups


As your audience is quite international, often participating with English as their second language, how do you accommodate this?

Keep the polling questions very focused and simple. Don’t have long and complex questions. They should be clear, succinct and be visible on the screen (check your font size and don’t crowd your slides with many words).

Before moving ahead with voting, we often gauge the audience have understood the question we are asking them.


An Example of a Polling Question used by The Warning Project


How do you prepare/ensure the maximum participation from your audience members?

Have a defined voting time that they know about. I use a timer and keep them updated on how much time they have left. Allow discussion time during the voting period, especially if you have a group/pairs.

Cajole them into coming to a conclusion, e.g., when facilitating emergency simulations I nudge my audience by telling them the Minister of Health is on the phone, and needs their answer on the solution they are proposing to the urgent problem we gave them!


Audience members live participation and engagement during the workshop, co-facilitator Melinda Frost in background


How have audiences reacted to use of ParticiPoll?

Very positively. We actually use ParticiPoll at the start of our workshops as an icebreaker and it also serves the purpose of getting them familiar with using the technology in a fun way.


For a speaker such as yourself, often travelling and working in remote locations around the globe, can you share some practical tips on things to consider ensuring polling runs smoothly?

Availability of WiFi in your meeting room is a must, of course. Obviously knowing whether your audience members will have handheld devices, tablets or PCs is another key requirment.

Where there is no WiFi available we plan ahead and use clicker devices. Managing this upfront is important. When using ParticiPoll refer to their Speakers Guide for detailed information to help you prepare.


Ben Duncan (far right) facilitates a discussion between the speakers and the audience


As an accomplished public speaker and experienced facilitator, what would you say are the do’s and don’ts of audience polling?

The main aspect of using polling is to get the questions right. Think about using simple questions that have either, multiple choice answers, yes/no and true/false answers.

Don’t make the questions too easy, as the audience will lose interest. Always have the question and answers on one slide.

If you are using scenarios relating to the questions have these as handouts, so the audience have all the information they need to hand in order to participate and place their vote.