Polling the Audience

By Heather Baldwin

Does this sound familiar? You’re at your company’s annual sales meeting about to discuss the new training software you rolled out last quarter, but you’re not sure how many salespeople have had a chance to use it yet. Since their response will determine the direction of your presentation, you ask for a show of hands to determine roughly what percentage of your sales force has given the software a try. Seeing the response, you figure it’s about 70 percent, tailor your presentation accordingly and then don’t understand why so many in the audience seem so confused.

Guess what? The “show of hands” method of polling an audience can be grossly inaccurate because it requires an answer visible to everyone. To enliven your next sales meeting while gathering accurate, useful information about the knowledge and training of your salespeople, try renting an audience-response system. These systems, which are available both wired and wireless, enable meeting attendees to anonymously answer questions using a keypad while you collect the data in real time, displaying the compiled results on a screen for everyone in the room to view.

Alan Warshaw, president of Quick Tally Interactive Systems, Inc., says his company’s technology is being used increasingly to run “quiz show” games at sales meetings. For example, salespeople are posed a series of questions about a new product in multiple-choice format. After each question, answers are electronically compiled, showing on-screen the percentage of the audience that selected each choice. The moderator can then reinforce the information by identifying the correct answer and discussing that aspect of the product or service. Salespeople, by being involved in the learning process, are more likely to retain the information, while management can figure out what employees in different demographics, such as length of service or sales territory, know and don’t know. The technology has prompted companies to change training strategies, presentation materials and even product-launch plans, says Warshaw.

If you’ve never used an audience-response system before, Warshaw says the key to choosing a system is finding a good, reliable vendor with whom you’re comfortable doing business. “All [audience-polling technology vendors] get to the same point – we all tabulate votes on a screen. Some do it faster, some do it slower, some use different colors,” says Warshaw. “What’s important is the relationship with the vendor in terms of quality of service and accessibility.” So ask for references, he says, and then check them. Also, price will vary depending on which vendor you choose and the size of your meeting, but plan on spending roughly $5,000 a day for a 100-person meeting using the Quick Tally system.