At a presentation skills workshop I conducted for a group of executives recently, I asked each what they wanted to gain from the program. The most common response was “How can I engage my audience?” As you begin a new year of presentations, you may have the same question. Here are some of the suggestions I made.
Get the audience to do things in unison. I use a posture-related exercise where I have everyone stand and then tell them to put the weight of their bodies equally on the balls of their feet. I say, “This habit will help you have good posture as you begin your presentation and will aid you in not swaying back and forth or slouching as you begin.”
Ask questions that are easy to answer. I ask, for example, what some of the physical manifestations of stage fright are. Since practically everyone has had most of the common symptoms, lots of people will offer answers. That easily leads to our discussion of dealing with stage fright. (See a previous article on stage fright.)
Do paper and pencil exercises. In my listening workshops, I have them make a “to do” list on paper as I tell them a story. I want them to write the list and listen to my story at the same time. This is very difficult to do effectively and gives evidence to my point that multi-tasking affects the quality of your listening.
Give away prizes during your program. When I discuss paying attention, I often conclude by pointing out someone in the audience who has been paying careful attention and say, “I can tell by the nonverbal feedback from John that he is paying careful attention, so I am going to reward him by giving him a copy of my book.” After I give away the book, I find that audiences are more involved because there might be another gift in the offing.
Finally, move and change positions as you speak. Audiences can’t resist watching as you move away from the lectern to one side of the room for a few seconds or walk down the aisle to emphasize a point or answer a question from someone in the back of the room. Movement attracts attention, but of course pacing back and forth has a negative effect. Be sure your movement is connected with a point change or the beginning of a story.
You can never engage all the audience members all the time. However, these suggestions can go a long way in encouraging most of the people to pay attention most of the time.