by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Way back in the 80s, when I did post graduate studies in education, all the talk was about “child centred education”, ie, tailoring the lesson to the needs of the child, building the lesson content around the perspective of the learner, taking your starting point from where the learner is etc. It seems strange that business conferences have only cottoned on to this approach some 30 years later but the current fixation with “audience engagement” seems like today’s version of “learner centre education” although the term, and, indeed, the learning environment and participant demographics are different.
From Information to Knowledge
For what is audience engagement if not a process whereby learners become involved in the learning process as opposed to being mere passive recipients of data and information? By actively engaging with the information, with each other and with the teacher / speaker, a kind of alchemy is enacted whereby superficial data points or information becomes deeper, more enduring and more formative “knowledge”.
But enough of the philosophy!
Audience engagement, in fairness, is what most audiences and speakers want from the get go. It’s the primary antidote to boredom which, at a business conference, is as guaranteed as rigor mortis in a corpse, no matter how scintillating the topic. But active engagement on the part of an audience is also enriching for all concerned – speaker and participants alike. We all want audience engagement so why doesn’t it take place?
It’s the audience’s fault!
While the speaker can be to blame for lack of audience engagement, in my experience, it’s usually the fault of the audience! Or, better, it’s a fault in human nature as most of us have serious anxieties about giving voice to our views, opinions or questions in a public forum! In a recent survey, in fact, well over 60% of the respondents stated that they’d never ask a question in a public. So most conferences unfold in the presence of a silent majority whose voice goes unheard and whose opinions are rarely captured.
I suppose it was an obvious problem for technology to solve and these days there’s a plethora of technology platforms that give voice to the audience in a variety of ways – through polls, Q&A, live surveys etc. Having used a number of them – both platforms and apps – I have a definite preference for Sli.do, a platform I first encountered in its native city of Bratislava at a conference there two years ago.
Sli.do – your solution
Sli.do is a platform, not an app. This means it’s accessible on desktop, laptop, tablet or smart phone via your usual browser. For me, and for many others, this is a huge benefit as, by now, we’re done with downloading apps which tend to sit there after the event, eating up memory on our devices. With Sli.do, you simply punch in the event code and you’re presented with a nice user interface with two tabs, one for Questions and one for Polls. The Polls enable you to cast your vote in a variety of surveys and to witness, on the screen in front of you, how the entire audience is voting on the topic. It’s 100% live, dynamic and hugely exciting from a visual perspective. It often takes the conference session in a different direction, particularly if the outcome of the vote is unexpected or controversial. Likewise, it often gives rise to immediate questions, which is the second tab.
The default option for questions is “anonymous” but you can also include your name or an alias. Once the question is published, it may be seen by the entire audience and, if it resonates with them, they can give it a “thumbs up” which means its rises in the leaderboard. This, of course, is a powerful way of crowd-souring content and making the conference more relevant to the specific needs of the live audience. The burning question is there for all to see and it becomes the role of the speaker or moderator then to address the question, perhaps finding the answer amongst the audience itself!
Sli.do is primarily committed to keeping the process as simple as possible and so it hasn’t complicated the platform with an excess of functionality, most of which would then remain unused. That said, it is constantly refining and innovating and has recently added a beautiful word cloud facility whereby you can quickly create a visual based on the frequency of usage of certain words. The platform also generates a really nice infographic which summarises all of the interaction and engagement on the platform. This may be shared post-event, as a link. Sli.do currently has a slide sharing module in beta testing.
Uses of Sli.do
Over the past two years I have used Sli.do in a variety of settings from small, brainstorming-style meetings (6 participants) to large conference-style events – 500 participants. I have discovered that no matter how small the setting, the usefulness of an anonymous platform is massive. Folks will write vitally important stuff anonymously that they’d never give voice or utterance too.
Most interestingly, perhaps, I used Sli.do in a virtual, on-line setting to get consensus around a brand identity for a client with a multi-stakeholder community (see image above). We deployed Sli.do during an on-line live meeting with participants at over 35 different global locations. Participants viewed designs on their desktops or laptops via an on-line meeting platform and then used Sli.do to vote on their tablets or smart phones. They also used the question facility to get immediate input from the designers and we achieved in less than an hour what could have taken months without the technology.
Last week, for the first time, at the FICP Annual Conference in Nashville, I used Sli.do solo, with no technical backup or support. While you need to be a bit of an octopus using all 8 arms to switch beween PPT, Sli.do and the Sli.do admin portal, it does actually work and allows a single handed speaker / moderator manage polls and Q&A for a mid sized meeting.
Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum are SoolNua and work with destinations, venues and hotels on strategy, marketing and training for the meetings industry. In February next Pádraic will assist the Sli.do team with an innovative session on The Event of The Future to be held in New York city. Details and tickets here.