A nervous speaker has a certain MO: a tell-tale way of letting the audience know he’s nervous. Maybe it’s reading from his notes, or avoiding eye contact and looking over people’s heads. A nervous speaker will do just about anything to avoid interacting with his audience.
That’s a shame, because audience participation is a sure-fire way to keep your listeners engaged. It’s also a great way to make your presentation more entertaining and memorable—for them and for you.
Public Speakers Involve Their Audience
Strong public speakers know how and when to involve their audience. Whether it’s telling the audience a story or inviting them to tell you a story, you can’t go wrong by drawing everyone in the room into your presentation. If you’re stumped for ideas on how to do it, try one of these Audience Participation Ideas:
The Warm-up: Audience participation should never feel forced, and you don’t ever want someone to feel as though they’re being put on the spot. A well-crafted presentation is a lot like a conversation, and naturally you want your listeners to be a part of it. So think of an appropriate way to make the audience feel like they’re a part of the discussion right from the beginning.
Taking an informal poll is a popular method. (“By a show of hands, how many people eat pizza at least once a month?”) This is a good technique for light-hearted topics or questions whose answers won’t cause embarrassment to the people who raise their hands. If you think the people in your audience may be hesitant to participate in your group poll, give them an alternative. For example, with Poll Everywhere you can ask your audience a question and they can respond by text, Twitter, or a Web browser. The results of your poll then appear on the Web or in your Powerpoint presentation.
The Inclusion. Ask open-ended questions that just about everyone in your audience has an answer to. Instead of asking how many people eat pizza at least once a month, invite them to tell you about their most recent restaurant experience. By asking inclusive questions, you allow members of the audience to get to know and identify with one another.
The One-on-One Q&A. You may be a confident public speaker, but not everyone in your audience shares your ability and they may be hesitant to ask questions in front of a group. A great way to address this is with technology. Sli.do and Blyve are nifty tools that allow people to submit their questions with their smart phones. You set up an event code for your members to join on their phones, and then they submit questions either anonymously or with their name during your presentation.
The Table-Turner. Nothing livens up an audience quite like finding volunteers to lend you a hand. Suddenly an audience member becomes the presenter and the unpredictability of that sparks a very unique energy. How can you involve the audience this way? Invite people onto stage and have them role play to illustrate a point, or divide them into groups for an activity and then have them report their findings. Anytime you can get make your audience a part of the presentation is a good thing.
The Live Tweet. Encouraging your audience to send out live tweets during a presentation is a smart way to get people engaged, with the added benefit of reaching people who couldn’t make it to the presentation. Studies have shown that, much like taking notes, live tweeting during a presentation is actually beneficial in retaining the information they’re being given. Plus, they’re sharing what they’re hearing. (Let’s hear it for free advertising!)
Here’s how you can get live Tweeting working for you: Create a hashtag for the presentation and ask your audience to use it. Delegate someone to be a Twitter monitor for the duration of the presentation and have them alert you when people in the audience have questions or points they’d like you to discuss.
By providing opportunities for your audience to get involved in your presentation, you’re building a meaningful relationship that will keep them engaged. And don’t forget to recognize an audience member’s contribution by acknowledging its value to the overall conversation. Even better, refer back to participants’ contributions further into your presentation. It shows them you haven’t forgotten about the question or point they brought up, and that you appreciate their involvement.