Association Congress

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The problems with voting pads and the solutions

I recently attended a conference which used some rather wizzy touch screen technology. Every delegate had a tablet. There was a “Technical Manager” roaming around, like a life guard ready to give the IT version of the kiss of life. Delegates sat pressing and resizing their screens and dutiful followed the instructor’s directions. Our session Facilitator was primed, and another “Technical Content Manager” sat ready to help delegates manage the process. A simply lowly Technician was also on hand…….just in case. Delegates only outnumbered staff at 10:1.
In the corner of the hall sat the guts of the operation. Stacks of bright lights flashed away, like someone had placed several Christmas trees on top of one other, and we all sat waiting to be blinded by this fantastic technology. I sat unmoved.
Skeptic I may be, but technophobe I am not. However at all of the learning events I’ve managed I’ve never bought into the idea that voting pads, or similar style devices, would actually add anything to my event.  Many people have tried selling the idea to me of course but I think I’ve seen past the flashing lights and newness of it all: I’ve seen the Emperor, and he’s naked!  
I am talking about the onsite handheld delegate voting pads here. What the bowfins’ have given us in the Social Media space, the online booking and payment area and the post delegate engagement through online feedback etc is marvelous. All of these really seem to save time, cost and effort. But most of the examples of technology I’ve seen used on the day, well, that tends to be a different story.  
But of course, if everyone thought like me, penny pinching and sat in Camp Skeptic, there wouldn’t be thousands of events using this technology every week.
I therefore have to ask when and why are event organisers using these? What benefits do they add?
And in return here’s my top ten: “when not to use on site delegate handheld technology”:
1.       When you can gain the answers simply by using one of the two things stuck at the end of your arms. Remember those things? You used to write with them
2.       As a mask for other things that are probably wrong with your conference, hoping that people are blinded by the magic
3.       Because one or two delegates put in their feedback questionnaire that they would like to use them
4.       When they cost a lot (and that is of course relative) but they tend to cost a lot!
5.       When they are separate pieces of kit: everyone has a smart phone these days so don’t add to the technical arsenal at a delegates disposal
6.       When you’ve seen them used at a competitor event and you simply want to ‘keep up with the competition’
7.       When you can’t, for some reason, use much more engaging ways, like Body Voting or Physical Spectrums, to ascertain peoples’ views
8.       When the facilitator or speakers haven’t been properly briefed or given time to properly build the option of using them into their presentation
9.       When the key objective is getting delegates to ‘peer share’ or network and
10.   If you want a much easier stress free life as the organiser
In my view this technology dramatically alters the relationships that are most important at learning events; the delegate and speaker relationship and the peer review relationship between attendees. People find it too easy to retreat behind barriers and these handheld devices are perfect for that. We have to encourage delegates to engage with one another, not with more machines. I am sure they have their place, but they must be used when they are the only solution to a problem, not used simply as gimmicks.   
At the event I attended they added no value at all. Following one session I asked several delegates what they had got out of the session. “Not much to be honest , I found the whole thing rather pointless” was one truthful response. I kind of wished I would have asked if the facilitator would have minded if I do a straw poll. I would have asked if delegates thought the tablets were useful or not. I think that would have made my point in more ways than this article has.  

1 comment:

  1. William, I have seen polling devices used effectively at the start of an event, where they were used to quickly provide the audience with information about the attendee's experience, education level, geographical distribution etc. But most of the time, I tend to agree that these devices are an expensive and somewhat gimmicky way to do audience polling.

    Besides using hand voting, there's another way to provide no-cost participant polling that's a lot of fun, provides more information, and can be used to segment delegates quickly and effectively: human spectrograms (aka human graphs or body voting).

    The great strengths of human spectrograms is that they provide information not only about the group and its opinions but also information that's directly useful to other individual participants. Having delegates on their feet and moving around also keeps attention levels high and provides an appropriate break from broadcast style learning. The technique's only drawback is that human spectrograms require an open space in the room, so fixed-seating auditoriums are out.