Stop and stare: why word clouds are more useful than you think

Word cloud generated with Pigeonhole Live's Word Cloud Poll. 

Ever wonder why good visuals have become synonymous with powerful presentations? Enter aesthetic emotion: the deep sensations we experience when looking at something attractive; from a breathtaking painting, a moving video or even an aesthetically pleasing chart. Good visuals evoke a sense of emotional connection, making the audience more invested in their engagement. Naturally, presenters have increasingly employed strong visuals into their arsenal to produce memorable engagements with their respective audiences. One such popular visual tool are word clouds, due to their ability to transform an otherwise mundane chunk of text into an attractive yet impactful arrangement.

Some have argued that the word cloud’s aesthetics comes at the price of utility, condemning its inability to make meaningful sense of data for its audience. Yes, the word cloud is neither the tool of choice for detailed textual analysis, nor one for nuanced data visualisation. However, the aesthetics of a word cloud does not strip away its utility. Instead, it is the very essence of what makes the word cloud a powerful tool for collaboration and engagement, especially when constructed in real time.

Here are three instances where word clouds prove to be a powerful visual tool:

1. Surfacing Misalignments

Ever feel like your teammates are heading in different directions and focusing on different priorities? You’re not alone. According to an MIT Sloan survey, only 28% of executives could correctly list three of their firm’s top strategic priorities. Misaligned teams are detrimental to both productivity and morale.


Before you can address the misalignments in your team you need to first get them to acknowledge it. A great way to illustrate misalignments is to conduct an opinion poll on priorities or concerns on specific topics on a live word cloud. You will then collectively observe the differences take a visual form, clearly illustrating any contrasting views. Once the misalignments are noted, you can follow up with realignment exercises.

Check out these exercises to surface misalignments in your team. 

2. To evoke an emotional connection from your audience

It’s not always easy to connect your audience on an emotional level. Many rely on the use of videos or pictures to establish the connection, which works spectacularly for one-way advocacy efforts. However, if you want your audience to become an active part of the discussion, the emotional engagement has to be more hands-on.

There is something powerful and stirring about the visual impact of a word cloud that is collectively constructed in real-time. They become a representation of the current sentiments both individual and collective, highlighting some but omitting none.  Live word cloud polls allow your audience to intimately shape the ongoing discussion and hence become more immersed in it. Such emotional connections are not easy to duplicate with other forms of live polls where inputs are presented in a list or grid format.

3. A powerful teaching aid

Word clouds not only provide good visual aid but they also make revisions both engaging and experiential. Constructing a live word cloud is a great time-saving revision exercise that you can conduct in under 10 minutes.

Simply have your students input key concepts on a topic into a live word cloud platform. As they collaborate with their peers to construct the word cloud, they actively engage with the key concepts and build on each other’s inputs making it a collaborative learning process. Having large topics mapped out as smaller keywords helps students grasp both the big picture and the key concepts better. Word clouds also help to surface any misconceptions, allowing you to instantly identify and clarify them. In the end, you will be left with an aesthetic mind map of keywords that make an excellent tool for a summary.

If you use Pigeonhole Live’s Word Cloud Poll you can now see it in your Insights as well as export it as PDF. This means that you can capture the entire word cloud from your audience participation in PDF for documentation and distribution. We have also enhanced our Excel export to include summary statistics of your word cloud poll.

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 5.40.43 PMPigeonhole Live's Word Cloud Insights.

Word clouds are a great tool for collaboration and engagement when appropriately utilised. That being said, the best way to discover the power of a word cloud is by testing it out in different scenarios. So get experimenting and let us know what's your favourite way to use word clouds! 


Any thoughts? Let us know.