ARS Guide


About Audience Response Systems

All the Basics that You Can’t Afford Not to Know!


What are Audience Response Systems?

Audience response systems are a combination of software and hardware that allow for fast and easy polling and voting from live audiences. In most situations, the audience will vote using keypads that resemble remote controls, and which have buttons ranging from a simple 1-5 to full QWERTY keyboards. The most popular systems are PowerPoint add-ins, which allow presenters to insert question slides into PowerPoint presentations. These interactive presentation solutions are popular in both businesses and schools, and are most commonly known as the small keypads used for “Ask the Audience” in popular quiz shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire, or as the method by which government institutions like the United Nations and the U.S. Senate make fast and secure votes.


Why Use Audience Response Systems?

Audience Response Systems have been proven to increase information retention rates when used during presentations and lectures. The interactive aspects of ARS presentations are frequently regarded as fun, and are often believed to make business presentations, lectures, and trade shows more interesting and less prone to the “audience fatigue” effect. In addition, many businesses find value in the optional anonymity allowed by audience response system voting (this tends to increase participation in feedback sessions and minimizes the nervousness and fear that stops some from voicing opinions in normal Q&A sessions). Finally, audience response systems are excellent tools for training and fast quizzes—this is an element of ARS enjoyed by schools and businesses alike.


What are the Limitations of Audience Response Systems?

Audience Response Systems are extremely flexible, and can be used in a wide variety of ways. Depending on the vendor, ARS can be used by up to thousands of voters simultaneously (with input results gathered in a matter of seconds), and can even gather results simultaneously from users in multiple locations around the world. The major disadvantage of audience response systems, however, tends to be their price, which can run anywhere from $30 per keypad to over $150 per keypad. For this reason, audience response system rental is a very popular option (many ARS vendors offer a rent to own option).


What Should I Consider When Renting or Buying an Audience Response System?

Audience response systems come in a large variety of shapes and forms, and ARS software has a large variety of features. The most important thing to remember when renting or buying an ARS system, however, is probably what your LEAST requirements are. The difference between a no frills system and a few bells and whistles can often amount to several thousands of dollars. When shopping for an audience response system, you should be aware of what you do or do not need.

Is an LCD screen really worth an extra $50 per keypad for your needs? Are 5 more answer options worth $40 more per keypad, or will you be fine with the minimum number of choices? You can spend tens of thousands of dollars getting the BEST keypad or software on the market, but the cheapest and most basic packages will suffice for 75% of audience response users, and can often be bought for under a thousand dollars. Even the no frills audience response systems will collect your votes, organize them, and usually export them to Excel or Word.

Don’t believe the hype on the more expensive systems if you don’t absolutely need their extra features. In most cases, deciding on the LEAST you need and then finding a system that matches those criteria is your best bet.

Here are some questions that may be important for you to consider:

  • Do you need texting, or is multiple choice enough for you?
  • Is it important for you to export results to Excel or other programs?
  • How many locations or voting sessions do you need to hold simultaneously?
  • Is free 24/7 tech support important to you? (Installation, licensing, and design can be complex- don’t get stuck with a problem and no tech support on presentation day.)
  • Are you a Mac user? (The majority of audience response systems are for PC only—if you are a Mac user, you may want to start with this question.)
  • Do you need software in languages other than English? (Some ARS vendors offer multi-lingual software.)

And here are some questions that you may want to ask, but which are usually not considered:

  • Is this audience response system an add-in, wrapper, or stand alone product? (Add-ins are usually preferred when dealing with PowerPoint, and tend to offer extra compatibility options. Stand alone products may not be compatible with Excel, Word, or other popular export-to software.)
  • (For PC) Is this audience response system vendor an official Microsoft partner? If so, are they a bronze, silver, or gold level partner? (Microsoft rates its official partners’ software compatibility, ease of use, and stability according to this scale.)
  • Does this vendor charge for shipping, customer service, or any other hidden fees? (Let the vendor know that these issues are important to you, and they will often rethink their quotes.)
  • Is this vendor selling me anything that I don’t need? (Most ARS systems require only one base station per simultaneous presentation, and many vendors give accessories such as lanyards away for free. If your quote doesn’t match these realities, then you’re probably being charged for things you don’t need.)
  • Does this audience response system require presentations and questions to be completed before voting, or does it allow questions to be created and inserted on the fly? (Some ARS systems allow questions to be inserted mid-presentation. This can be a useful feature that is usually not considered before buying.)

Do you have any other audience response system questions that you think should be added to this list? Contact us and we’ll add them!