Engaging the Audience

At the beginning of the session in a recent presentation skills workshop, I asked what each participant wanted to gain from the one-day program. Half mentioned the ability to engage the audience. Here are some of my suggestions.

Ask questions. Even if everyone does not answer, this mental exercise makes everyone think. When you receive an answer, others may enter the discussion. Even a rhetorical question may work. Though you do not expect an answer, you still engage the audience’s thought process.

Encourage the audience to do something in unison. This might be to sing a verse of a song with you, or quote a familiar line from a play or movie. When talking about reframing a message, I make the point that the story of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer is really a story about reframing. You see him in a different light when he is able to guide the reindeer through the fog on  Christmas Eve. He still has the red nose, but there is a reframe of how he is perceived by the other reindeer. During that explanation, I stop and have them sing a verse of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” with me. I find that having them sing in unison gives the audience a shot of energy and they are more attentive to my application.

Show a picture and have the audience tell what they see in the picture. In talking about perception I will sometimes show the classic visual of the head of a skeleton or the woman at her dressing table. Getting the audience to see both is a fun way to make the point.

Have the audience fill in the blank. You might have them guess an amount of money or how much time something takes. I sometimes stress the importance of learning a second language and I will ask what are the three most popular languages in the United States after English. That elicits good participation. Most will get Spanish as the number one second language but Chinese and French in that order usually takes a little longer.

If you can’t think of a word, see if your audience can fill it in for you. There is nothing wrong with having a mental block on a word and asking the audience for help. I have found that the choices of words they suggest are often better than the word I was planning to use.

When you see your audience becoming lethargic or bored, think about one of these techniques for engaging the audience.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at steveboyd111@gmail.com.

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