“Is my baby ugly?” I use this polling question during my Microsoft Lync demonstrations. The question always gets a laugh. My audience quickly realizes the feedback is anonymous, so the screen updates to indicate that some participants are switching their answers from ‘no’ to ‘yes’. I’ll hear more snickering on the audio conference as the poll summary changes. Yes, it’s fun, but the exercise emphasizes the power of the polling feature to gather anonymous feedback.

Honest feedback is hard to find. The word collaboration implies a two-way exchange of ideas. Collaboration tools allow presenters to present ideas using rich media such as audio, video and web. PowerPoint makes it easy to communicate ideas in a compelling way, often well organized and sometimes even beautiful. Room-based video conferencing systems immerse the participant.

But immersed in what? A monologue?

Innovation is one of the most powerful assets any business can possess. Much of Michael Porter’s work as a professor at Harvard Business School focused on the links between creativity, innovation and competitiveness. Successful businesses invest in good ideas. They let the not-so-good ideas wither or they put them back in the oven until they’re fully baked.

The trick is to know which ideas are good. It’s impossible to have one individual decide. The depth and complexity of any organization’s products and services are too broad for any one person to master. But the collective intelligence of the workforce has the answer.

Unfortunately, presenters usually use collaboration tools for only half of the innovation birthing process. Pride, fear, political dominance and plain, old-fashioned good manners get in the way of gathering critical feedback. In order to collect honest feedback, participants need to feel free from negative repercussions.

Microsoft Lync polls allow the presenter to gather anonymous feedback. They are easy to set up in advance or on the fly. It’s easy to interject polling questions during a presentation at just the right moment. The presenter has the option to share the results with the participants or keep them hidden. The presenter can save the results in a spreadsheet format (Comma Separated Values or CSV) for later analysis. This makes it easy to gather feedback from a very large group.

I also use the polling feature to collect information about my audience so I can better tailor my presentation. Such as:

  • Job function
  • Size of business (employees)
  • Size of business (annual revenue)
  • Knowledge level of the topic presented

At the end I ask for a rating of the information presented and then the performance of the presenter. This works better than just one rating for the entire presentation. A poor presenter can create a bad presentation with good information—and vice versa: bad information can create a bad presentation even if the presenter was clear and interesting.

Getting critical, honest and immediate feedback is necessary to promote the best ideas within an organization. Presenters often overlook the polling feature of Microsoft Lync, but it’s powerful—enabling interactive collaboration with a noticeable impact on business.

Have you seen projects get green-lighted at your organization when the majority of coworkers knew the project was a bad idea? Do you have an example of successfully using anonymous feedback to promote innovation? What was the effect on your business? Please share your experience in the comments below.