The right (way) to vote – part 1

When and how did you first learn to vote? Probably in school by raising your hand. This time honored method of polling an audience may seem straight forward, but I frequently see presenters who don’t use this simple participation technique correctly. Here’s how to do it right.

  1. Make sure you list all the possible choices you’re offering before you poll. If you’re asking an “only-one-of-these-answers-is-right” question, providing all options in advance helps to reduce the natural hesitation to pick the early “correct” answer when you haven’t heard all the alternatives.
  2. Next ask if the alternatives you’re giving are clear and complete, and give the audience a chance to clarify the choices you’ve provided or incorporate additional potential answers you’ve overlooked.
  3. Now it’s time to ask for a show of hands. Remember that because you’re at the front of the room you can see how many hands are raised response better than anyone in the audience except, perhaps, the people in the back row. It’s frustrating for audience members to take the trouble to vote and not be informed of the group’s response. Present each answer in turn and give people time to respond. After each answer, estimate the proportion of the audience that has hands raised and give that feedback to the audience, e.g. “About half of you prefer bacon.”

If you need a yes-no vote with abstaining not an option, use stand voting. Ask everyone in favor/agreement to stand. (If any audience member is unable to stand, have them raise their hand.) Then say “Everyone standing sit, everyone sitting stand.” If you’re looking for unanimity, anyone now standing can be asked to explain what they feel they can’t commit to, and, if necessary, the group can work on an agreement as to how to proceed.

In part 2 of this post I’ll describe Roman voting.