How technology helps with audience questions during a conference talk 

I’ve always made my talks conversations. Whether it’s been to 600 people or 50, I try to get some interaction going. Sometimes that’s through spoken questions from the audience, quick exercises between neighbors or show-of-hands activities. Of course, that doesn’t always work. The list of reasons I’ve heard includes:

  • We are at a conference on a Sunday.
  • I don’t want to.
  • He’s supposed to be the entertainment.
  • English isn’t the attendee’s native language, and they are nervous about speaking in front of that many people.

There are others, of course. And I don’t mind just being up there blabbing for an hour without anyone asking anything. I still think of it as a conversation with the audience. I try to read their body language.

Conversation also can happen with the help of technology. Speaking at ibtm world in Barcelona to a standing-room-only crowd, I was very impressed by Slido, a platform that was on the screens up and behind me and also the smaller one in front of me, which was facing me. People could ask questions without having to wait for the mic or speak up publicly, and the questions would show up for all to see.

Before I go further, let me just say that I have no relationship of any kind with this company. I don’t even know anyone there (as far as I know). I’m just sharing this here because I think it can be useful to some of you speakers and event organizers out there. This platform (or similar ones) might even be good for classroom trainings. Yeah, I know, we want people to participate, but I do wonder how many questions go unanswered simply because the person didn’t feel comfortable speaking up.

During my session, I took questions the entire time! I don’t ever do Q&A at the end only. That just seems too unfriendly: Please hold all of your questions until the end. I encouraged questions verbally from the floor and also through the Slido platform throughout. That worked great. A moderator can approve them or all questions can go up.

People raised their hands to ask a question. Of course, they’d have to wait for the mic runner so others – including myself – could actually hear their question.

interview during ibtm world
We did a quick interview during the conference in Barcelona.

I did then answer their questions. But do you know what’s also hard about verbal questions? People often work through their questions as they are verbalizing them. So there could be more than one question, and sometimes they are not said in the best way or include multiple questions.

As the speaker is answering the verbal questions, they may end up answering question 1, 2 or 3, or maybe half of 1 and 3 because we forgot parts of the questions as we were responding.

Either way, verbal questions have their place. And so do platforms like Slido. We live in a world of options, so why not offer options here as well?

On Slido, other attendees can even up-vote questions. When there were a lot, the audience basically voted which ones should be answered first. Very useful. The ones with the most votes would move to the top until they were cleared (after I answered them).

I liked a few things about the written questions:

  • They were usually to the point.
  • I could refer back to them. Did I answer that?
  • I could see how many more questions were already lining up so I could adjust timing on the fly for the rest of the talk.

Taking questions like this is another reason not to use PowerPoint. I wouldn’t ever want to respond: “That’s coming up in 12 slides.” What a conversation turnoff.

Related: How to do a two-hour workshop without PowerPoint

One negative with all these written questions coming in was that at one point I had made my way through maybe 5-7 questions. They were all very relevant to our topic at hand and certainly helped the conversation. But, when I was done with them, I had no idea where I had left off with the talk. LOL. It took me a moment to get back to where should start back up.

A few years ago when I was involved daily in event planning, we tried to use technology for polls and such, but it didn’t take off as much as I thought it would. Maybe the time or audience wasn’t right. It definitely worked in Barcelona, and I would recommend using this platform or a similar one for events to encourage even more interaction.

Here’s to making all talks and events as interactive as possible.

ibtm world in barcelona
A look at the floor of hundreds of booths at ibtm world in Barcelona in 2016.


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