How Should I Encourage the Audience to Participate (if at all?)
You are probably wondering, “Why would I want to engage the audience? That sounds scary! I’d like my audience to sit there and shut up, so I can finish and get the heck out of there!”
I sympathize with you—I really do. But I also want to make your life as easy as possible and to increase your odds of being perceived as a pretty good presenter. One of the biggest dangers we have to worry about as speakers is that our audience gets bored, zones out, and then remembers us as awful speakers. This is a failure for us.
But if you engage your audience, they won’t be bored; and engagement means two-way communication. You’ve probably had an interesting conversation with a friend, spouse, or family member that lasted all day; not necessarily because anyone said anything brilliant, but because there was a back-and-forth engagement that allowed you to talk—so it wasn’t boring.
When people say they don’t like to be “lectured to,” they typically mean that they don’t like one-way communication where one person does all of the talking, and they have to just sit there and take it. This is why everything you do in your presentation needs to not remind people of a lecture. You want to talk to, have a conversation with, and engage people.
Here are some simple tips to help you engage your audience:
- Ask people questions when you are presenting.
- Encourage people to ask you questions at any time—not just at the end of your presentation.
- Look at audience members to see if they understand what you are saying. If they look confused, stop and ask them where you’ve lost them.
- Encourage people to disagree with you and give other opinions—not just ask you questions.
- Engage audience members not just with your words, but with your eyes, focus, and smile as well.
I know there is a part of you saying, “I don’t want people interrupting me during my presentation! They will disrupt my train of thought. I’ll forget what I’m going to say. Can’t they just shut up until I finish?”
You could do it this way, but you pay a real price, and there is very little upside. If you let listeners interrupt you with questions during your presentation, you often end up with a better outcome—because the questioner may be pointing out a place where you were unclear or fuzzy. The other great value of letting someone ask a question is that it creates a variety of voices in the room, which makes your presentation more interesting.
And yes, it’s true; people like the sound of their own voice. It might seem odd, but people will say nicer things about your presentation because you let them talk a little and you listened to them. I understand your concern that allowing audience members to interrupt you at any time will make you forget what you are going to say, freeze, panic, develop flop sweat, and then have a heart attack and die. Fortunately, you don’t have to ever worry about remembering what to say because—as you recall from an earlier chapter—you have a simple text outline in front of you. Since you can glance at this at any time, you never have to burden yourself with memorizing stuff. This takes all the pressure off.
|This article was taken from my new book "How to Give a Pretty Good Presentation"
You can order a copy from Amazon.com or from your local bookstore.