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Is Anyone Listening? 4 Tools to Power Up Your Presentations

Summary (TL;DR)

Humans have a hard time listening.  Check out these four technology tools to increase audience engagement and gather useful information.

The Tools


Those faces, all those faces that people make.  If you have any experience public speaking or presenting, you know those looks.  There is the “I’m Really Into This!” face which often contains a slight smile and is found in combination with furious notetaking.  There is the “I’m Only Here Because I Have to Be Face” which is generally only viewed obliquely as the face is often facing anything but you as you present.  The list of faces goes on and on, and the more your present, the more ability you develop to read your audience’s faces, their level of engagement and their level of understanding.

However, even the most skilled presenters struggle to gain 100% engagement.  Why?

Well, one reason that presenters struggle to gain 100% engagement is that human beings are generally brutally bad at listening to others.  In fact, according to the research of Ralph G. Nichols and Leonard A. Stevens, “immediately after the average person has listened to someone talk, he remembers only about half of what he has heard—no matter how carefully he thought he was listening.”  According to their research, the cause of our listening deficit may result from humans thinking faster than we can talk.  As we are listening to others, our brain has a lot of time to do things other than pay attention to what the speaker is saying, and our brains often use this time to think about a lot of things other than the speaker’s message.  Regardless of the reason for our listening deficit, merely listening to a presentation is not a very good strategy to learn anything, unless you would like to learn less than 50% of it.

Furthermore, even if everyone is actively listening to a presentation, can a speaker honestly know if every audience member received the intended message?  I supposed that the speaker could hold one-on-one interviews with each audience member after the presentation, but wow, that could take a lot of time.

Fortunately, technology has provided speakers with some tools that allow us to engage 100% of our audience and quickly assess if they are receiving our message.

The four tools that follow all involve ways of embedding audience participation and feedback directly into our presentations, providing presenters with immediate information about levels of engagement and understanding.

Plickers (Free)

Plickers are essentially printed pieces of paper used in connection with a phone app.  The presenter can prepare questions in advance, ask those questions during their presentation, and collect audience responses quickly using the app on their phone.


Strengths: Free, Quick formative assessment collection, No audience member computer or technology skills required

Weaknesses:  Responses are limited to multiple choice or true/false, printing and managing cards can be a hassle



Google Forms (Free)

Embedding a Google Form or multiple Google Forms into your presentations is a great and relatively easy way to engage your audience and check their understanding.  Using Google Forms gives you the ability to receive audience responses quickly and provides multiple options for presenting and analyzing the data that you collect.



Strengths: Free, Multiple question formats, Multiple response display formats, Create a Quiz option

Weaknesses:  Learning curve can be steep for advanced features, No free-form response option (Freemium – Free to use, $39/yr to unlock all features) is my favorite interactive presentation tool thanks to its versatility. Like Plickers and Google Forms,’s Quickfire activity allows you to collect audience responses for formative assessment quickly.  However, also offers three other modes that expand your options for interactive presentations.  The Discuss mode allows you to create presentations with questions directly embedded into the presentation.  As if that is not enough, also provides the Team Up mode where students can work in groups to create their own interactive presentations.  Finally, offers a video tool named Clip that allows you to embed questions into videos in a way similar to Edpuzzle and also provides the option to have a chat running during video presentations.


Strengths: Extremely versatile, Free version includes most features, Four different presentation modes, Google Classroom Integration

Weaknesses: $39/yr to unlock all features



Pear Deck (Freemium – Free to use, $99/yr to unlock all features)

Pear Deck is another outstanding tool for creating interactive presentations.  Like all of the other tools on this list, it allows you to engage your entire audience and quickly gather responses and feedback.  Pear Decks greatest strengths are outstanding Google Apps and Google Classroom Integration and some unique forms of response including giving audience members the ability to draw their responses.  Unfortunately, these unique response forms are premium features and will cost you to unlock.  With or without the premium features, Pear Deck is a great tool for building interactive presentations and collecting formative assessments.


Strengths:  Google Apps and Classroom Integration, Unique response formats including free-form drawing, Self-paced mode for easy differentiation

Weaknesses: Cost, Premium features are essential parts of what makes Pear Deck great

Pear Deck is currently offering a free 30-day premium trial for Cult of Pedagogy listeners.  You can access this offer here: https:/ (Side note: If you don’t listen to Cult of Pedagogy, you are missing out.  You can access Podcast homepage here:



What Is Freemium? “…the ‘mium’ is Latin for ‘not really.’”

Freemium is a pricing model that allows you to use a piece of software for free but offers the ability to unlock features by paying for them.  Most apps follow some type of freemium model, and there are several different freemium pricing models.