Technology Can Transform Your Conference

The audience is king in communications. Whether giving a presentation, talking to the media, or writing a document, who matters most is the viewer, listener or reader. What do you want them to do, feel or say as a result of your communications?

How strange this is too often forgotten when organising a conference.

I am sure you have attended conferences where death by PowerPoint was a real possibility or panel discussions where the moderator runs out of time for the Q and A session with the audience.

Have a read of this article by Guardian journalist, Duncan Green entitled “Conference rage: How did awful panel discussions become the default format?

He says, “a badly run conference is not only a lost opportunity, but a waste of time. How can we improve them?”

He gives a lot of good ideas, but doesn’t mention how technology can really make a difference, putting the audience back in the driving seat.

Interactive web applications – the moderator’s friend.

This year, I have moderated or acted as Master of Ceremonies at a number of events organised by companies, trade federations and international organisations. Many of them used web applications, which asked the audience to give their view on the subject under discussion or as a way to take questions or comments during the Q and A.

Two of the most popular apps are and They promise amazing conversations, using a collaborative platform to maximise interaction at events and meetings.

So how do they work?

The audience downloads the app on their tablet or IPhone, put in the event code and then can ask questions during the Q and A session or take part in “real time” polls. The results appear on a screen in the room.

Many people feel nervous asking a question, especially if not in their native language. They prefer the more anonymous way of asking digitally. The only disadvantage is that the moderator has to understand the question or comment, especially difficult if it includes acronyms. It has to be made clear also who on the panel should respond and of course the moderator can’t check back for clarification with the questioner.

However, the part I really like is that the event organisers can ask the audience questions before the panel discussion. The responses appear on the screen within a minute. It is like getting the election results in real time.

Have a watch of this video from

As the Master of Ceremonies at the Future of Europe’s Finances Conference in Brussels, I used it firstly to find out who was in the room. We provided a list: European Commission officials, industry, academics, or other.

In retrospect, NGOs should have had their own category and not been relegated to “other”. The NGO’s were quick to tell us that on Twitter – the advantage of a two-way social media conversation!

Brussels, Belgium – 25 September 2017
“The Future of Finances” conference.
Photo: European Commission / Ezequiel Scagnetti

We then went on to ask more specific questions.

The moderator can use the results of a survey in a number of ways either by using the answers to start the panel discussion or refer to them during the discussion. You can also use the survey questions as a transition technique between panels, particularly useful as people leave and come on to the platform.

If you are really brave, you can use the word wall. This is where you ask people to write the word that they most associate with the conference. You show the results at the end. Of course the moderator/MC has to go with the flow if some of the words are not those the organisers expected!

At every event where I have used these applications, the audience has responded with genuine enthusiasm. They create a buzz and make the audience feel that they are really part of the event, restored to their rightful position as event royalty.

3 Responses

  1. Hi Claire, Thanks for this useful post! It’s great to hear your experience using technology with large groups. As a large conference facilitator and MC (from time to time) myself I have also used Wisembly in the past, and these days tend to favour Polleverywhere ( for interactivity with the audience. It is also interesting to consider how to make things interactive when you don’t have the technological option, or are a little worried about audience access to wifi (if you have an international group). Some venues have good wifi, others are a little shaky once audience numbers get to a certain level. And at a recent event I facilitated in a southern country in a 5 star hotel, we still had electricity cuts due to rainy season weather and a little annoying lag before the generator would kick on in our conference room. Causing that awkward break in the action that a presenter or facilitator dreads! You can still do polls and audience interactivity through polling or audience mapping with “Soft” technology (raising hands, standing up, red and green cards, etc.) if you design for it (even as a Plan B) and of course there are lots of mass games you can play with large groups that can connect your message with a more physical learning experience through a game. All these things can make an event more memorable and as you say, put the audience in centre stage. I can share this post about designing in interactivity with large groups: thanks again, Claire, for sharing your learning! Cheers, Gillian (Bright Green Learning)

  2. Claire Doole

    Thanks Gillian. You are a great MC as I saw at the Women’s Forum for Economy and Society. I shall certainly check out

  3. Deborah Berlinck

    Hi Claire, your post is spot on. Well-done. The public cannot bear anymore sitting still for an hour just to listen. Social media is shaking up communication strategies. Moderators and speakers need to connect, engage and interact with the audience, much more than before. And I also agree with Gillian that you can still interact when you don’t have the technological option.

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