3 reasons never to use polls in webinars

Polls in webinars? In a word: no.

“But hang on, Don,” I hear you say. “I thought your watch word was interaction? Don’t polls allow you to interact with your audience?”

Again, in a word: no.

“Now you’re talking nonsense. You’re asking a question aren’t you? Isn’t that interaction?”

Again, no. It is not interaction. I never use polls in a webinar – with one important exception.

“Interaction” – the clue is in the word. You act together. In a webinar that means conversing – as far as the medium allows – with participants. That means if you ask a question, people have the chance to respond as they see fit, that you can react to what they individually, and – ideally – that they are able to interact with each other.

Polls provide none of this.

Ask a poll and here’s what happens:

  1. The poll goes up
  2. The participant reads the questions
  3. The participant answers as he or she sees fit
  4. The participant waits for the poll results
  5. Poll results are shown, discussed for a moment
  6. The webinar continues

All this can take a minute of more. That’s a minute where your participants have made one decision, and heard their views considered in aggregate, for a moment (because usually stage 5 lasts no longer than a few seconds) before the webinar continues.

For a busy audience, that’s an insult.

And it’s a risk, too. That point 4 – the wait for the results – can be deadly. If you ask people to hang around on a work computer for 30 seconds, what are they doing to do?

That’s right – email.

So here are the three reasons why you should (almost) never use a poll in your webinar:

  1. It insults the participants. It’s like saying “You’re all going to sit quietly while I collect this information, treat it with cursory interest and then toss it to one side.”
  2. It destroys momentum. Momentum is crucial, the sense of focus, of driving towards a destination. All gone as your participants sit and wait.
  3. It’s an invitation to distraction – or, more precisely to email. Think your participants have time on their hands? Think again. They are incredibly busy people. Use their time well, or they will choose how to use it, and it won’t be on your webinar.

But there is an exception.

There is one time when it can be a good idea to use a poll: right at the beginning of your webinar.

Using a poll at the beginning doesn’t interrupt momentum, because you haven’t built it up yet.

More importantly, if you ask the right question, a poll at the beginning can be a good use of your time and your participants’, particularly if you don’t know them that well.

So, an early poll that establishes the background, aims/wishes or other important information about your participants can be very useful – provided that you use itIf you ask your audience what their main interests are, then you have to reflect on what you discover over the rest of the webinar.

Otherwise you’ve just wasted their time and your own.


This post is based on an extract from my ebook Webinar Master. Click to buy the book

2 thoughts on “3 reasons never to use polls in webinars

  1. Interesting – we think along similar lines, and it’s a close call who’s more against polls!

    You might like this post where I complain about polls, and 3 heavyweights disagree via the comments – Ellen Finkelstein, Ken Molay, and Roger Courville.

    The discussion even caused Ken Molay to run a survey on the subject, and he found most people quite like being asked poll questions – though many other people do dislike them. (You can find a link to the survey in the comments to my follow-up post, “How to fix the #1 mistake when you present online”. Also, I later wrote what I meekly call “the world’s best polling question”, which is in the list of related posts.)

    A poll’s like a show-of-hands from an in-person audience – except that in effect you then ask people to keep their hands up while you count them all. Any audience in their right mind would tell you to “Get nicked!”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s