Feedback is essential in determining what the audience wants. Among other things, it helps to measure comprehension and encourages participation. But measuring these responses isn't always easy. A show of hands may not be accurate, and paper surveys must be printed, handed out, collected, and tabulated.

Real-time audience polling systems can be a better choice. These systems use wireless handheld keypads that operate on radio frequency, and a receiving unit connected to a standard data projector. They can be rented, but easy-to-use, “turn-key” purchase options are available.

Benefits to Real-time Systems

Immediate feedback — The immediacy of the process can increase participation.

Anonymity — Responses that are nonverbal and anonymous tend to be honest.

Democracy of input — As everyone has a keypad, everyone — rather than a few vocal participants dominating the discussion — gets a say.

Increased productivity — Because everyone gets a say, instantaneously, substantial time can be saved.

Variety of questions — Questions can take a variety of forms, allowing for quite sophisticated data analysis.

Flexibility of questioning — Questions can be created “on-the-fly,” giving the ability to address topics as they arise.

Increased accuracy — The data is stored in the computer, avoiding data entry errors.

Improved understanding — Comprehension can be easily tested in a training session. Also, measurement of degree is more accurate. There is a difference, for example, between people answering they are “uncomfortable” and “very uncomfortable.” A range of opinions can be expressed much more accurately than when people raise their hands for “yes” or “no.”

Data export options — The data can be printed or exported to a spreadsheet or other file for distribution or further analysis.

Portability and ease of setup — A 20-person system, for example, fits into a case that will fit into an airplane's overhead compartment. It can be set up in less than five minutes.

Ease of use — The 10 buttons on the typical pad are simple and easy to use.

Additional features are available, including builtin microphones in the keypad for audience questions, a key to prevent unauthorized use, and continually variable response dials (to measure moment-by-moment satisfaction ratings).

Rental cost is usually based on the size of the show, the number of units, and the number of days. The total usually includes a base fee that covers consultation, graphic design, reports, and computers, which can range from $750 to $1,500; a per-unit keypad fee ($10 to $18); plus the technician's expenses. Prices for purchase start at less than $3,000 for a 10-keypad system.

Corbin Ball, CMP, is a speaker, consultant, and writer focusing on events and meeting technology. With 20 years' experience running international citywide technology meetings, he helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity. Contact him at his Web site,

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