Poll Everywhere welcomes Kat Boogaard as the guest author of this post.
Anonymous feedback takes a lot of heat in the business world. Many professionals are quick to write it off as utterly useless — after all, what good is feedback if you don’t know the source and can’t continue the conversation?
Here at Poll Everywhere, we disagree. While direct feedback definitely has its benefits, there’s a time and place for anonymous feedback as well.
Here are four times when you should consider using anonymous feedback within your presentation.
1. When tackling a sensitive subject
Not everybody is comfortable speaking up and making their opinion known — particularly when the subject matter is delicate or uncomfortable. In those cases, not attaching names to pieces of feedback can be helpful.
Let’s say you’re conducting a presentation about respect in the office. You ask the audience to describe a time when they felt bullied in the workplace. Highlighting those incidents without any anonymity — while your attendees are seated directly next to their co-workers — is a perfect recipe for an awkward atmosphere.
When your topic is sensitive, personal, or gives you pause about whether or not people would be willing to honestly share those experiences with their names attached to them, it’s definitely worth pursuing anonymous feedback as an option.
2. When you want really honest submissions
All right, we know: ideally, you always want to get honest responses to the questions you pose to the audience. And, rest assured, it’s totally possible to get those without making feedback anonymous.
But, remember this: People are far more likely to sugarcoat things when they know their identity is associated with their response. Just look at the brutality of anonymous internet comments and you’ll quickly see that the protection of anonymity gives people a greater sense of courage (whether that’s a good thing or not).
With that in mind, if you’re looking for really transparent and forthcoming feedback, asking people to submit responses anonymously can help you get the level of honesty you’re looking for.
Let’s say that you’re the CEO of a company and you’re conducting a presentation to get insight into how company leadership could be better. You ask your attendees to share just one word they’d use to describe you, the CEO. Do you think the answers will be as revealing if people feel like their answers could put their jobs at stake? Unlikely.
In this case, anonymous feedback empowers you to get a clearer temperature read on how your company’s leadership is performing.
3. When identity isn’t important
While anonymous feedback takes a lot of flak for being irrelevant and unhelpful, this is an important thing to note: Sometimes identity isn’t important. You don’t always need to know who said something in order for it to qualify as actionable feedback.
When deciding whether or not anonymous feedback is appropriate for your specific situation, take a moment to evaluate whether or not the identity of respondents matters.
If you want to be able to split people into smaller group discussions based on their responses, for example, then identity carries some weight.
But if you’re just doing an icebreaker or a general poll? Anonymous responses could be your best way to go — and even help to foster a more supportive and inclusive atmosphere for your presentation.
4. When the audience’s pride is on the line
You want to start your presentation with something attention-grabbing, so you give the audience a pop quiz to see how much they already know about what you’re presenting.
That’s a great way to engage your audience right from the get-go. However, when responses are public, it can also lead to some clammy hands and flushed faces for anyone who doesn’t know the answer.
People don’t want to risk embarrassment or appear foolish in front of their peers. So, if you’re eager to have people participate in any sort of quiz or trivia, using anonymous feedback to relieve that anxiety of being exposed as ignorant can go a long way.
Anonymous or traditional feedback? That is the question.
When you hear so many rumblings about the drawbacks of anonymous feedback, it’s tempting to write it off as something you should stay far, far away from.
However, anonymous responses definitely have their time and place — and even offer some benefits that you’ll never get with direct feedback.
If you find yourself in one of the three scenarios above, it’s well worth it to consider leveraging anonymous feedback to increase your chances of honest responses, provide a safe environment for your attendees, and take your presentation to the next level.
Wondering how to go about making feedback anonymous during your own presentation? Check out Poll Everywhere’s anonymous feedback tool.
Kat is a freelance writer specializing in career, productivity, and communication topics. Her advice has been published by numerous outlets, including Forbes, Fast Company, TIME, Inc., Business Insider, Mashable, and more. When she manages to ditch her computer screen, you can probably find her spoiling her two rescue mutts, Bert and Gracie.