One of the biggest challenges facing meeting planning professionals? Finding good speakers...and then making sure the audience likes them, too.
Sure, you can watch for signs of engagement and attentiveness during the presentation - versus a lot of shifting in seats and surreptitious phone-checking - and ask attendees to fill out a post-conference survey, but wouldn't it be great if there was a real-time application that would help you gauge audience response while the speaker is still talking? What if the app could even let you know whether a speaker needs to wrap things up now...or stay around for an encore?
Welcome to TimeVote.
TimeVote allows the audience to use their computers or mobile devices to vote on whether they like the speaker's idea and presentation and whether to give them more time - or less time - to speak. The speaker watches a screen in the front row with a timer, giving them more or less time literally as they speak.
TimeVote is the brainchild of Arthur Sychov and Sorin Postelnicu and was born at a Startup Weekend in Amsterdam last summer.
"The timer is influenced by the audience," Sychov said. "They vote positively or negatively for the speaker, and the speaker gets more or less time depending on this performance."
You can actually see how people are changing their minds during the presentation. Its real-time feedback of people live on the timer.
Jonathan C. Laabs is executive director of the Lutheran Education Association. In that role he has occasion to plan events, attend events and even speak at events. He finds TimeVote intriguing, but he sees logistical hurdles.
"Not having concrete times for speakers is contradictory to the way we have been scheduling things," he said. "And it could be slightly insulting to the speaker to suggest that their time might be shortened because the audience wants it shortened."
"The audience, too, would be denied the big picture of the whole message," he said. "If they don't like it, and they vote to stop it, they wouldn't have the benefit of seeing how you conclude."
Sychov said some events may not be suited to TimeVote, but the product is flexible.
"We can modify it and make it so each speech will not be shortened, but only lengthened or vice versa," he said. "We can also set up the ratio where they will only be shortened by a limited amount of time."
TimeVote is still in the beta stage, and Sychov said they are only charging enough to cover their costs as they perfect it. But they already have requests from Canada and the U.S. for events this year ranging from 200 speakers to 2,000.
Laabs said he can see it working in the right setting, when all parties are aware and prepared for the possibilities. He even volunteered to try it as an experiment sometime.
"I wouldn't be insulted if someone cut me short," he said. "I would probably never take another speaking assignment, but other than that.."
That may be the risk meeting planners take in creating such an immediate link between the speaker and audience feedback. What you gain in audience empowerment, you may very well lose in speakers being unwilling to put themselves through the gauntlet.