Have you ever had to facilitate Q & A for a speaker? What an awkward endeavor!
Does this sound familiar?
You announce that you are opening the floor for questions. A bunch of hands go up in the audience. Some poor soul has to run around through the audience with a microphone. Perhaps to make it easier, you have microphones in the aisles. Someone takes the mic and either yells into it and everyone winces, or whispers and no one knows what the question was. He then spends the first minute talking about himself and/or ranting about his own agenda. Finally, a question pops out but who knows what it might end up being. If you are lucky, it’s a relevant question. If you’re super lucky, it’s not “David Robinson, how tall are you?”
There had to be a better way!
On November 21st and 22nd St. Christopher’s School hosted our Building Leaders Symposium with five amazing speakers and over 3200 guests from the Richmond area. In planning the event, we wanted a system where the questions would run smoothly, the audience could be more engaged, and we could share some of the great technology tools we use at our school.
During the Symposium we used Poll Everywhere to streamline the Q & A process. Poll Everywhere is a tool designed to include audience participation using mobile phones during a meeting, class, or other event. In the past, we have used Poll Everywhere to poll the audience during our Presidential debates, to have students answer questions as part of a presentation about school rules, and in individual classes to check for student understanding. A year and a half ago this system worked really well as an opening activity when St. Christopher’s hosted the International Boys School Coalition Annual Conference. Our audience of over 500 educators was divided into four teams playing a game against each other. Attendees raved that the game helped them feel more connected and engaged from the beginning of the conference.
For the Symposium, we used the Poll Everywhere Conference Plan for $375. You can use a different plan for this based on your needs, but you must have at least the Presenter Plan ($65) because you need moderation capability. Poll Everywhere lets you purchase the plan for the month you need it, which makes it more reasonable for a single event like this one. We’ve harassed Poll Everywhere with many questions over the years and they are always helpful and quick to respond.
We loved how the system worked for the Symposium so we figured we should share what we did.
- The Poll Everywhere presentation was running on Carey’s computer which was hooked into the physical switcher that the production company was using in the back of the room. During the course of the questions they were switching between a live video feed of the speaker, a slide on their slideshow describing how to send in a question, and the live question on Carey’s machine.
- J.D.’s laptop had the two google presentations on it to send the questions to the two ipads up front.
- We had two iPads in the back with the Poll Everywhere app on them for Carey and J.D. to find and select questions. The second iPad was a backup in case the first didn’t work.
- All four of these devices were on a personal wifi hotspot so we didn’t have to rely on the wifi in the room.
- There were two ipads up front each set to the appropriate Google Slides presentation.
- These two ipads were on a second personal wifi hotspot we hid in the plants in front of the stage.
- We set the room wifi as a backup in case the personal wifi hotspots went down.
- Attendees text in their questions.
- Carey and J.D. look at the questions on the Poll Everywhere iPad app and choose a question.
- J.D. types the question into a Google Slide on his computer. We alternated between two Google Slide presentations because we had two sets of students each with a teacher (Sarah and Christie) in the front to ask the questions.
- Sarah and Christie select the next prepared question on the Google Slide and held the iPad up while the student reads the question to the speaker.
- As the question is being read, Carey selects the question on the iPad so it will be projected on the screen.
The Life of a Question
The above process worked really well for the most part, but we did run into some snags along the way:
- Some of the best questions we found were either misspelled, missing a capital letter, or missing a question mark. In order to remedy these issues we had to re-text the questions ourselves with the correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. It would have been really helpful to have a way to edit the questions texted in before putting them up.
- Once we chose a question to use, there was no way to distinguish it from the other hundreds of questions. You can highlight questions that you don’t want to use, but they are still there. When we were ready to choose a question to project on the screens, we had trouble going back and finding it. It would have been helpful to have a queue for questions we knew we were going to use.
- In a perfect world…there would be a way to have Poll Everywhere replace the Google Slides step by getting the queued questions to the people in front.
- There aren’t settings to center the responses. With just one question at a time, an option to center it would have made it more visually appealing.
What Worked Really Well
- We had a group of students who read the questions to the speaker. We considered giving a device to the speakers so they could read the questions, but that seemed impersonal.
- Getting to vet questions made for a better Q and A experience.
- The efficiency of the system allowed for more questions.
- The students reading the questions had practiced using the microphone so they were easy to understand.
- Having the question on the screen while it was being read made sure the audience knew what the question was.
Overall, we loved how the system worked and we got wonderful feedback from the audience members and event organizers. In case you are still wondering, though, David Robinson is pretty tall.