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Addressing 7 Myths about Audience Polling

We are pleased to share the piece below from NCDD Sustaining Member, David Campt, who recently authored a great new book on deliberative polling technology called Read the Room for Real. David submitted the piece below on common misunderstandings about deliberative polling, and if you like it, consider checking out his book on Amazon by clicking here.


Read the Room for Real on AmazonDavid Campt is the primary author (along with Matthew Freeman) of Read the Room for Real: How a Simple Technology Creates Better Meetings. In the book, audience polling is referred to as Speed Polling to Enhance Input and Knowledge, or SPEIK (pronounced as ‘speak”).

Myth 1: Audience polling is expensive.

With the advent of text-based polling about 8 years ago and the proliferation of polling based on web access or dowloadable apps, the cost of SPEIK systems has plummeted. Some services (such as Poll Everywhere) have monthly subscription services that you can join briefly, then suspend when you don’t need it. Costs per user can be as low as 1$ per user per month. For renting or buying standalone equipment (such as from Turning Technologies, usually called the industry leader), the cost per use is higher for one usage. However, if you buy the equipment and amortize the expense over a few years of usage, those costs start heading toward zero.

If you consider the cost of meetings in terms of people’s time, the marginal cost of SPEIK technology is minuscule compared to the full cost of the meting. And the value can be very significant.

Myth 2: SPEIK is unreliable.

We tell people that the technology is not as reliable as planes landing safely (99.999%), but is much more reliable than that chance a plane will arrive on time (about 75%). When problems happen, humans are usually at fault.

Myth 3: SPEIK is hard to use

Many of the systems use web based interfaces, or even just directly import questions from the Office suite of products. There are hard to use products out there, but for the most part, these systems are easy to program.

Myth 4: Audience polling takes the emotional heart out of group experiences.

Polling can be as emotionally deep as you want – it all depends on how you use it. In the book, we tell a story about using SPEIK to help a group of football players from a high poverty neighborhood have a conversation about a teammate who had been murdered in an apparent mistaken identity situation. Using SPEIK enabled these seemingly tough and unreachable athletes to anonymously express the degree that they felt fearful, sad, angry, or numb; the players could all know they were not alone. One assistant coach who had previously publically criticized the technology said using SPEIK was indispensable for creating the subsequent small group dialogue where they began processing their grief.

Myth 5: SPEIK is only good for large groups

The value of polling starts at about 10 people, and dramatically escalates at about 15 people. I have used it to help a group of 7 people when there was not a high sense of safety in speaking one’s mind.

Myth 6: SPEIK is only useful at certain times of a meeting

If people have seen the technology at the beginning of a session to build community or to set the table for dialogue, they think that is its primary usage. The same thing applies when people have seen it used at the end of a meeting to make evaluation more transparent or in the middle of an event to enrich the dialogue. People project based on successful uses they have seen. The truth is that SPEIK can add value at all parts of gatherings, and at all types of meetings. It can add value to speeches and panels focused on downloading information, to focus group settings where the point is to gather feedback from every person, and to workshop and dialogue settings where the point is to generate cross-talk among participants. The fact that it can aid all of these situations is partly why I think SPEIK is grossly underappreciated.

If facilitation is a meal, you can think of SPEIK as able to play a variety of roles. It can serve as an appetizer to get folks hungry for more interaction. It can be a side dish that complements the core dialogue and makes it richer. It can function as the main course, such as when surveying a group. It can be used like a desert at the end of the experiences so people walk away more energized and connected. It even can be used very sparingly like a condiment or spice that helps other facilitated processes work better.

Matthew and David are launching Read the Room for Real this weekend with the goal that America declare its independence from bad meetings. Their hope is that if the become an Amazon best seller (even just this weekend) through a focused push by the facilitation community, there will be greater public focus on issues of inclusion of diverse voices, group intelligence, and democratic decision making. If you buy the book through this link, 17% of the profits go to NCDD. Learn more about the book at www.readtheroomforreal.com. You can see their book trailer here.

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Roshan Bliss
An inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator, Roshan Bliss serves as NCDD's Youth Engagement Coordinator and Blog Curator. Combining his belief that decisions are better when everyone is involved with his passion for empowering young people, his work focuses on increasing the involvement of youth and students in public conversations.

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