The Right Way to Use Audience Response Systems

In the world of presentation design, increasing the level of audience engagement is the Holy Grail, and properly using emerging audience response technologies is one of the best approaches to firing up a more active, two-way conversation with a crowd. It is critical, however, that presenters utilize these technologies the right way. The act of bringing the audience into the conversation, while helpful for engagement, can also lead to a poorly structured or contradictory theme developing. With the right approach, an ARS can add more life to a presentation.

Establish an Educational Goal

It’s important to steer any presentation toward a specific goal, and audience response systems must be incorporated with this idea in mind. For example, if a presentation is intended to nudge the audience toward a single conclusion, using an ARS to conduct a snap poll of the audience may be counter-productive. Conversely, if a presenter wishes to liven up discussion about a topic that doesn’t naturally lead to a single answer, a poll may be precisely the way to get the audience to join the conversation. Another way to leverage an ARS is to use responses to highlight common perceptual or cognitive errors that audience members can be expected to make.

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Appropriate Technologies

A number of companies sell keypad and tablet systems that allow audiences to provide responses to a presentation. If a venue does not already have such a system available, it is also possible to rent one. A local server can also be configured to allow the audience to access the ARS using their own smartphones, laptops or tablets. Technical support options are also available from many vendors.

Presentation Design

Employing an ARS during a discussion requires taking the presentation design process a step further than normal. While open-ended discourse may feel like the best approach on a gut level, a good presentation does need to follow a specific path. Dealing with this challenge is a key part of making good use of an audience response system. The trick is for a presenter to make sure that they’re using the right approach relative to how the discussion is likely to unfold.

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When dealing with difficult subject matter, it’s a good idea to use a private chat-based ARS design. This allows the presenter to stay in control of the discussion by being selective about what ideas are drawn from the chat system and pushed onto the stage for the rest of the audience to hear. While it might seem a bit undemocratic of an approach to employ, it’s critical to keep a conversation pointed in the right direction rather than allowing it to meander. This helps to make the most of everyone’s time and allows a presenter to steer clear of potentially dangerous topic changes. An added benefit is that this method may offer a way to bring shy members of the audience into the conversation.

A ratings-based feedback system may be beneficial for presenters who wish to measure the audience’s response to a discussion. This allows presenters to see what ideas were able to gain traction in audience members’ minds. If the audience struggled with a concept, these ratings can form the basis for returning to particular topics toward the end of a presentation.

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Polling may be the trickiest part of using an ARS during a presentation. Poll answers may skew wildly from the anticipated responses that presenters were seeking. When using an ARS to conduct snap polling, it’s wise to use the system to address open-ended issues or questions where audiences are known to consistently display predictable biases.


Audience response systems, when employed competently, are a great way to improve the engagement level of a presentation. Many of the issues that have to be watched when using an ARS are in fact underlying challenges that go with any topical discussion, and presenters need to bear these problems in mind when seeking audience responses. With the right educational goals and a clearly defined design approach, an ARS can help elevate a presentation to a meaningful conversation with an audience.

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