The Evolution of Audience Response Systems

June 22, 2014
Audience response systems (ARS) have been around for a long time, but were often out of reach for many event planners. It often involved renting devices that would allow attendees to ask questions, respond to polls and fill out evaluations via those devices. Today, options are available that eliminate the need for special devices.
 
Several companies are providing ARS that are accessible via your attendees’ mobile devices. This can significantly reduce the cost to the event organizer.
 
Q&A Link offers event organizers a text based system. No WiFi or internet connection is required for your attendees to access the system, and they can participate no matter what kind of mobile phone they use. 
 
Heslert Castillo, director of business development for Q&A Link said, “we are the only light mobile solution for Q&A sessions, you don’t even need a smartphone. You just need something in every cell phone in America, the SMS or text message.” 
 
Q&A link sets up a phone number 48 hours in advance of the event. Attendees can use that number to text in questions to the speaker or even answer simple polling questions. Castillo said that this text based system is affordable and widely available to everyone. 
 
Conferences i/o offers a web-based solution that attendees can access using their mobile devices. Again, no availability is needed. Attendees can access the website via their data plan and Conferences i/o says there solution is less data intensive than using FaceBook. 
 
“Our primary focus is incredible ease of use, intuitiveness. You can’t take 10 minutes to explain to your audience how to do something. With Conference i/o you just give [your audience] the website and let them go,” said John Pytel, co-founder and CEO of Conference i/o. 
 
The Conference i/o system includes social Q&A which allows attendees to vote questions up or down, polling and session evaluations. Because the system is web-based, event organizers planning hybrid events can provide access to the system to their remote attendees, giving them the same opportunities to interact as the in person audience. 
 
Sli.do is another option available that offers Q&A, polling and evaluations. It is also web-based, so your attendees do not need to download a special app. Their service is also very intuitive, and attendees will have no problem using it. Sli.do includes moderation and interactive wall functions. 
 
Moderators can highlight questions for better visibility and answered questions can be hidden, so only relevant questions remain visible on the interactive wall. Tweets using the event hashtag can also be displayed on the wall. If that is not enough technology for you, you can add a Google Glass extension to the moderation function. 
 
Freeman XP offers clients a second screen option for audience engagement that goes beyond Q&A, polling and evaluation. “Second screen technology can be the next generation of connecting audiences with content in a live environment. We all go to face-to-face programs and devices have become an integral part of everything people do on-site. Ultimately the ability to harness that platform to engage more deeply with audiences; it’s a big opportunity,” said Chris Cavanaugh, president of FreemanXP.
 
Cavanaugh said that what is important when using this type of technology is figuring out what types of content can augment a presentation, not distract from, but add to it. This way the device is supporting the content instead of being a distraction. 
 
Presenters incorporating second screen technology are no longer limited to the amount of information they can deliver due to time constraints. Content can be embedded into their presentation which allows the viewer a deeper dive into concepts they may not be familiar with, at their own pace. 
 
Real time analytics on the back end provide the event organizer insights into what has captured their audiences interest. Cavanaugh points out that organizers could use that insight to adjust their event content or create pop-up discussions around those areas of interest. 
 
With all these different types of systems available, event organizers do not lack for options that meet their particular needs. No matter what your budget is, there is now a system that will fit. You don't have to worry about renting expensive equipment. Audience engagement is accessible via your attendees mobile devices, whatever those devices may be.

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