Webinars are one of the most engaging ways to communicate with people online. No other type of digital marketing or communication is more interactive and engaging than a webinar. This is due in large part to the fact that most webinar platforms let you engage with attendees in a wide range of ways during a webinar, keeping them interested in your content and even allowing you to track exactly what they're interested in. This is accomplished with built-in webinar functionality like live Q&A consoles, feedback tools, group chat, social media integration, and real-time polling.
It's that last item—real-time polling—that I want to focus on in this blog post because there's a right way and a wrong way to use polls during a webinar. Too often, I see companies and organizations using polls ineffectively and incorrectly. Instead of increasing audience engagement, their use of polls actually has the opposite effect.
The golden rule for webinar polls is simple: A webinar poll must offer value. It's not enough that you're providing a way for your attendees to interact with you. A webinar poll needs to offer something beyond its original raison d'être. Before adding a poll to your webinar, ask yourself these questions: Does it add value to my webinar? Do attendees gain something by participating?
For instance, a webinar poll could guide your presentation: Which point would you like me to cover next? Or a webinar poll could help attendees see how they compare with their peers on an important topic or issue. In both cases, you're engaging your audience, which is great, but your attendees are also getting something out of participating.
I know of companies that insert a poll into their webinars to determine how many of their attendees are viewing the webinar in groups. I've seen other organizations use polls to supplement the demographic data they've collected from their attendees during the registration process. Sure, this information is valuable to the webinar host. But it's a waste of time for the attendees—the same attendees who are taking time out of their day to attend your webinar.
When you use a webinar poll to enhance your webinar attendance metrics or to collect demographic data from your attendees so that you can market to them later, you're telling them that you don't really value their time and that you're only in this for yourself. That's not a very effective way to increase audience engagement during a webinar.
I've also seen webinar hosts insert polls into their webinars for no other reason than because the functionality exists! Many webinar software vendors have product marketing teams that are constantly screaming about the applicability and value of the myriad bells and whistles offered by their platforms. But just because a webinar feature exists, it doesn't mean you have to use it. A webinar with no polls is better than a webinar with polls that serve no purpose at all.
Some webinar organizers use polls as an attention tracking tool. This is a fairly common practice for webinars where the attendees earn continuing education credits for attending. The sponsoring organization needs to be certain that an attendee didn't log in to the webinar and then just head out to lunch. Their solution to this problem is to launch a poll at predetermined times during the webinar. The post-webinar data needs to show that an attendee responded to, say, three out of four polls to receive credit for attending.
I'm a little more forgiving when polls are used in this way, if only because the webinar software vendors haven't really come up with a good alternative yet. Some webinar platforms have introduced bona fide attention tracking tools (for example, a little unobtrusive pop-up with a limited shelf life that asks an attendee straight out, Are you paying attention? Yes/No), but most platforms haven't addressed this need.
But even a webinar that uses polls for attention tracking can still follow the golden rule that should apply to all webinar polls. If you must interrupt your webinar multiple times to determine who's paying attention, do you really have to use the same generic, pointless poll each time? Instead, ask the presenters to come up with topical questions that will generate polling responses that they can discuss in a meaningful way. If all you really want to do is track audience attentiveness, you might as well use a poll that at least makes the audience think it's for their benefit.
Finally, once the poll has concluded, make sure to show the results to the audience. If you don't, they'll wonder why they even bothered to participate in the first place.
While a real-time, interactive poll can certainly ramp up the engagement factor during a webinar, always make sure your polls offer value. Otherwise, any advantage you gain by increasing audience engagement is simply cancelled out by the negative perception you're creating.
Clark Webinar Consulting provides hands-on expertise and support to help businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations conduct and deliver worry-free, professional webinars. Learn more about our full range of webinar services.