In a recent presentation skills workshop, when I asked the ten people to tell what they wanted from the workshop, I was surprised to hear that over half wanted to learn ways to engage the audience. I realized I had not planned on giving enough attention to this important element of presentation skills. So before the day was over, I shared some ways to do that. Bruce Springsteen said it well about engaging the audience: “The life of a rock and roll band will last as long as you look down and can see yourself, and your audience looks up at you and can see themselves.”
We are not musicians but speakers; thus we may have to work harder at making the connection with our audiences. One way is physically to move into the audience. When I stress a point, I may take two or three steps toward the listeners. This action lets them know that I want to make sure they are with me as I share this information.
Another method is to involve the audience in some activity to process the point you are making. This can be very simple. For example, when I talk about goals or priorities or how a person should spend his or her time, I will sometimes use the following activity.
Each person gets a blank piece of paper to tear into four equal quadrants. I say, “On each quadrant, write something that you hold of great personal value.” Then I have them fan the four pieces out as they would a deck of cards. I say, “Wad up the least important of the four to throw away.” Then among the three, they choose the one that is least important. When two are left, they choose the one most important. This dramatizes the difficulty in choosing what is important in life and how we will spend our time. At this point, the audience has been a part of the content of the speech.
A third way to engage the audience is ask participants’ opinions on the idea you are discussing. I often talk about stage fright and I will sometimes start the discussion by asking them first if they experience stage fright. Most will answer that they do and then I’ll ask what their symptoms are. This results in an energetic give and take with the audience about the different ways we show anxiety when we are about to speak. That engagement allows me to move into good techniques on controlling too much anxiety.
These three ways can help engage the audience so that they feel a part of developing your successful presentation.
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at www.sboyd.com. To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.