I was recently listening to some interviews I did a few years ago after I did an opening keypad “Who’s in the room?” session to open a conference. The National Multicultural Institute had convened the 3-day gathering, and I had put a fair amount of effort into the session. My session integrated the surfacing of important conference themes and explaining and illustrating the capabilities of the keypads. I even had a two-round trivia game as an energizer when the energy flagged a bit. At the end of the day, I did a short session to help the group clarify its priorities on key issues for the field. Since the session had such great energy, I conducted some short interviews the intention of which was to get participants’ reaction to the idea of doing keypad session as conference openers. One particularly striking themes from these folks – who could certainly be considered “diversity practitioners” among their other roles – was how they talked about the benefits of anonymity of the keypads. They did not fight me on the idea that polling helps conferences, but when asked what were the primary benefits of the keypads, several of them focused on some aspect of anonymity. For example, several of them mentioned that when the topic is a “sensitive” one, people often will admit to holding opinions that they think/know are not politically correct if they can do so anonymously. One of them said that in the context of a workshop, people will often be reluctant to write down their opinion, even if their names are not attached to the submissions.
A few of the interviewees talked about the way that the quick turnaround nature of the responses makes it more likely to get people’s top of mind answers, which they thought would be more candid than responses that might be more considered and internally processed.
One gentleman had an interesting take on polling that I had not thought about exactly that way: he said that in the context of a diversity discussion, there will be people who will want to reject observations made by a trainer who looks different than them, but they might be open to seeing those truths if the data in the room shows the same results. I was reminded of the time I did a poll about people perceptions that they had been treated unfairly by the police, and then showing the way that racial identity was strongly related to how people answered this question.
Overall, my review of these interviews reminds me that part of the challenge in promoting more audience interactivity is framing the advantages differently for different audiences. It is the very flexibility of the tool that creates more work in clarifying why the tool is helpful. A hammer is a hammer, but how you would talk about it one way to a fortunate repairperson and another way to a guy who builds wrought iron sculptures.