Electronic Audience Response Systems are far more than voting tools to collect and aggregate data. Learn how you can create questions and run a more interesting and effective interactive event.

Electronic Audience Response System

Electronic voting also known as Audience Response Systems, ARS and Clickers provide these main benefits for use at Electronic Townhalls corporate and association meetings, seminars, elections, synods, and training. Most interactive meetings using electronic voting systems have specific goals and several carefully crafted questions in a session or two. Accomplishing your goals when using the electronic keypad voting system will be greatly enhanced by understanding that the real polling power lies in its anonymity. Here’s how.

Introducing Interactivity

“The mind is like a parachute. It works best when it is open.”

~ Sir Thomas Robert Dewar

The Quick Tally® audience response voting’s interactive process enables the group to learn from one another, break down assumptions, move quickly toward conclusions, and arrive at a consensus. Using the electronic voting system intelligently and judiciously, Quick Tally®:


  • Speeds the Decision Process
  • Enhances Productivity. Saving time by dramatically speeding up the process creates more usable time. Votes are instantly collected, aggregated and available for viewing (or not) in PowerPoint in real-time.
  • Creates Anonymity. Eliminating a public showing of hands enables individuals to freely express their opinions
  • Eliminates Gross Assumptions
  • Forces Ownership of Opinions
  • Empowers the Audience
  • Generates a Discovery Process
  • Encourages Growth
  • Accelerates Group Consensus
  • Enlivens Sessions and Provides Entertainment
Electronic audio response system has many benefits from meetings, to shows.

The Basic Elements

The Participants

Quick Tally® transforms your audience into active participants. The questions you ask your audience will create enthusiasm, and the result will be not only the acquisition of new, unbiased information, but also to generate a process of discovery within the audience, a feeling that there is true concern and value placed upon their responses, and an eagerness to participate. As an inherent and very important bonus, the process of inclusion creates participant satisfaction. In many cultures, this may be the primary benefit of using Audience Response Electronic Voting Technology.

Having participants that will participate in your meetings will help with posing questions and making the meetings more interactive

The Speaker/Moderator

The most important objective for the speaker is to empower the participants in the interactive environment. Think of yourself as a media commentator, adding color to the session. When you are posing questions, it’s a good technique to ask the question and go over the list of possible responses; however, when the Quick Tally® results appear on the screen, rather than read off the list of responses, your job is to provide commentary. The attendees can read the visualization of the group’s results without you. Interpret what you see on the screen, encourage discussion of the possible implications of the responses, and look for follow-up “why” questions.

The Power of Anonymity

Your group meeting is a rare occasion in which the experiences and expectations of each and every person come together in one room. It offers you the opportunity to “walk your talk”. It can be an enlightening, perhaps transformative group experience and can even modify your culture. And it could be a rare opportunity to communicate if you could eliminate the politics.

In a typical interactive group meeting, questions are often invited, feedback and opinions solicited;

however, the message delivered by the physical positioning, the lighting, the dress, etc. is clear: the true job of the audience is to listen—when in fact the real value of assembling the group together might, more importantly, be for management to listen.

As such, many organizations unwittingly structure their meeting to discourage participation. Most conventional meetings are set up as talking heads lit by stage lights behind an elevated podium, lecturing to a hushed audience sitting in the dark. That is fine for a normal/typical meeting; however, it’s not the best setting if you plan to be interactive and create the environment for honest feedback from your participants.

Through the power of anonymity, your organization can use ARS Electronic Voting Clicker Voting to communicate freely and openly, no matter who is in the room. Instead of tentative, reserved, self-conscious hand-raising, the Quick Tally® system allows private, anonymous responses, and introduces an instantaneous visual portrait of the group’s feedback that changes the character of your meeting.

The first-time members of your audience see their responses before them on the screen, a ripple of anticipation and appreciation goes through the meeting. It is a uniquely powerful experience they won’t soon forget. From that moment, the meeting is usually transformed from a ho-hum “them” gathering to an “us” event.

Tips on Conducting a Better Session

Use Time Wisely

“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter”. ~ Mark Twain

  • Ask the audience if the issues or topics most important to them are being discussed.
  • Eliminate all but the few most basic, meaningful questions. Less is more!
  • Arrange the question list in descending order of importance, so that if the session runs long, the least important questions are the ones eliminated. If there are multiple topics in the session, do so with each topic.
  • Keep it simple: The on-screen question is merely a brief visual prompt of the spoken question. Truncating the question to its basics is a great exercise in clarifying your questions and your overall session.
  • Although there may be many possible choices, do not have unnecessary choices that take time to read and fill the screen. Usually, about four choices are enough.

Anonymity vs. Tracking Responses

You can track responses—i.e., in a testing mode for continuing education, or identify the individual or groups that need training.

A word of caution: In some applications tracking is necessary and in others it is deadly. Are the attendees to be empowered to speak to issues candidly, or is there a need to track their responses as in training or continuing education? The difference between the two determines how candid and honest the responses will be. Neither is wrong; they are just different.

 In a typical meeting, the process is to ask attendees for a few demographics such as

  • Identifying their job description or relevant identification: Volunteer or Staff
  • Geographic location and number of years of service.

 The goal is to ask just enough to gain useful information without the attendees feeling that you are tracking them.  Consider how open and trusting your culture is and how valuable truthful responses are before asking a lot of demographic questions.

Developing a Questionnaire

If you have an open organizational or corporate culture, you might consider a more open interactive group participation structure. Some environments require a more formal approach. In any case, consider gearing your questionnaire toward the success of the event itself, i.e. primarily for the benefit of the attendees, to enhance the individual sessions and provide information to enhance the overall event.

  • “How many questions should I ask in an hour-long session?”
  • “How long does it take to ask and answer a question?”

The first answer is that you should ask the fewest possible questions – the caveat is that they are the most basic and meaningful. Although this is completely subjective, for most sessions it’s about four to twelve questions.

As for how much time needs to be allotted to ask a question, it takes as long as you need to read the question aloud, plus 15 seconds (depending upon the complexity of the question) for the audience to respond. A countdown clock may be inserted into the question screen to speed up the process.

The bulk of time in an is generally spent after the question is asked, so make decisions in advance about the time for discussion and teaching, i.e.:

  • Are you merely reading the responses back, or are you doing color commentary and explaining the meaning of the response?
  • At an educational session, are you going to explain the correct answer, or deal with reinforcing learning later?
  • If the response is important to the progress of your talk, will you discuss it in depth?
  • Will there be follow-up questions?

The Most Basic Question is the Best


Quick Tally®’s axiom with regard to questions is this:

The more basic the question, the more valuable the data.

The more interactive you want to be, the more you need to ask the most important, most basic questions that are catalysts for thought and action. The follow-up “why” question is typically the one that provides the deep insights you seek. Or, it may be that there is a one truly important question. If so, ask it prior to any discussion/day and ask it again at the end of the session/day. This simple technique of only asking one repeated question has in some meetings been the single most powerful use of the audience response technology.

Question Length On-screen

Long question text must be edited to create a prompt containing only as much information as is needed.  During your session, the question may be spoken at full length, and/or presented at greater length on a separate text screen. Less is more!

Impromptu Questions and Cross-tabulations

Impromptu questions can be added at any time during your session, and any questions asked during the session (even impromptu ones) can be referenced (cross-tabulated) by any other question. If you’ve asked a few simple demographic questions, you can crosstab responses by any other question, such as how men answered a question, or how people of a specified income or educational level answered.

Quick Tally® Question Formats

The formats described below allow you to gather information and feedback in a measurable context. They are: Closed-End Questions: Multiple Choice, Yes/No (True False), Likert Scale and Rank Open-end Questions.

Closed-End ARS Questions

  1. Multiple Choice questions, the most common type of audience response questions, enable you to instantly see the audience’s response by percentage or by raw numbers. Multiple choice questions can help the speaker to prioritize points and issues as perceived by the participants.
  1. Yes/No, (True/False) questions can help you to gauge where your audience stands on clear-cut issues. The results are often surprising.

(You may also add Undecided as a choice.)

  1. Likert Scale Questions define the parameters — from least to most — on sensitive opinion issues such as self-assessment, quality of the product, effectiveness of campaign, or ability to manage, etc. 

The results are shown as a histogram and provide more detailed information than multiple-choice or Yes/No question formats. Likert scales may use choices of 1-5, 1-7 or 1-10. They all contain a neutral middle point with anchors at the top and bottom of the scale. Most of them use the following descriptors:


  • Strongly Agree
  • Agree
  • Neutral
  • Disagree
  • Disagree.

Open-end Questions

Open-ended questions can allow you to measure unplanned responses. For example, in a multiple-choice question, you may offer “OTHER” as an answer category. If a significant number of participants respond with “OTHER”, you can then open the floor to take responses. The question can then be rephrased with the new categories added and entered into the system by the operator.

Achieving Break-Through Communications™

At events introduced or run by the CEO, we generally advise a theme of listening and honoring the opinions of the attendees. We often advise management to rethink their usual approach to their meeting as an opportunity to lecture and spend some of their time listening. It’s both powerful and simple to champion a listening/caring theme.

Perception vs. Reality—Exploding Myths

The Quick Tally® interactive technique involved in this premise is simple—and the results are very powerful. Ask your audience a series of related questions without showing the responses until all questions in the series are asked and answered. For example, ask:

“How honest is the US Congress?”

The format would be a Scale question, in this case on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being honest and 1 being dishonest.

Then ask:

“How honest is your own Congressperson?”

Remember, you didn’t immediately show the group their responses to the first question.

Finally, with both results, show the responses. You will find the answers are almost always that Congress is dishonest (rating around a 3,) while their own local elected official is honest (and gets around a 7.)

So, the conclusion to share with the audience is then:

“How is it possible that Congress is dishonest, while all of you have honest Congresspersons?”

This technique demonstrates, in a tangible way, the difference between individual perceptions and reality.

The simple process of pushing the button and translating the responses to visual language (viewing on screen) forces ownership of the participants’ collective opinion. There is nothing threatening and nothing to think about. They are physically, verbally and visually connected to the results and to each other. They own it because they discovered it and told it to themselves.

Break-Through Communications™ is the single most dynamic interactive technique. It can force people off of autopilot, to examine ideas and issues, first as individuals and then as a part of a group. The participants almost imperceptibly “buy into” their own responses. When the truth becomes difficult for your audience to accept, this technique allows them to discover it for themselves, laying down the groundwork for growth and movement to action.


Audience Response systems are far more than tools to collect and aggregate data. This has been a basic guide to learn how you create questions and run more interesting and effective interactive events. There is much more that can be done in areas not discussed, training, education, and knowledge-based games and with results reporting, analyzing results and opening the minds of your event participants to learn and grow.


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About Alan

Alan grew up in Brooklyn. After graduating from New York University with a degree in Communications, he attended the New School for Social Research, Graduate School in Communications at NYU and the Master’s Program in Cinema at UCLA. He has owned and run Quick Tally for over three decades and has pioneered both in the manufacturing of ARS equipment and providing interactive event services. Earl Grey, Alan’s 17 pound Maine Coon Cat, graciously lets Alan and his wife JoAnne live with him in Marina del Rey, California (Los Angeles).