Fresh Ways To Boost Audience Participation
Most people would agree that an interactive presentation is an engaging one. Speakers and audience members alike benefit when the presentation is set up to encourage questions, dialogue and discussion among the full audience and in groups. Yet, by far, most presentations resemble speeches or soliloquies rather than facilitated discussions. We spend more energy getting through our content than connecting with the audience.
Presentation expert Kris Flegg writes on Lifehacker that the typical presentation format is the key to deadening your audience to your message: “Funnily enough, the most commonly used presentation format has the most negative impact on an audience. Many presenters follow the format of a 45-minute presentation beginning with an ‘about us’ section and finishing 40 slides later with a ‘questions’ slide, accompanied by a clip art question mark or light bulb and an identical handout of the slides. Unsurprisingly, this is an audience’s idea of living hell.”
We may have the best intentions and try to incorporate interactivity into our existing format, but as Flegg says, the design itself may be the place to start.
Instead of taking the typical rote presentation approach, here are five ways you can structure a presentation to get – and keep – audiences talking.
Start with a natural way to warm up your audience.
From the beginning, you want your audience members to feel included in the conversation. Presenters often scour the internet for the right ice breaker to open a talk. There are hundreds of ice breaker ideas out there, yet many are cheesy and feel forced.
Instead of thinking of an ice breaker, consider what would be a natural interactive accompaniment to the presentation. As gaming expert Gabe Zichermann writes about in books such as Gamification Revolution, people have a built-in love of games. A good presentation can incorporate a bit of game design into the opening. For example, if you have research, have the audience try to guess some of the results. Or start with a quiz and have the audience compete at their tables. The idea doesn’t have to be big, just fun.
If gaming isn’t suitable, consider what opening fits with your content. If you’re pitching new business, for example, ask the audience for their top questions before you launch into your content. Tell a story or provide a case study but have the audience choose which one they want to hear. If you have a product, start with an interactive demo.
There are lots of options. Take a step back early in the design process, and consider what would make your particular audience members feel part of the discussion from the outset.
Poll the audience.
One tried and true strategy to gauge audience engagement is to ask them. Commonly this is done by a show of hands, but often audience members are wary of revealing their true opinion in front of others.
Luckily, easy and cheap technology provides another option. There are several products out there, but Poll Everywhere, is one good option that allows you to use polls in a fun and unique way. You simply ask your audience members a question, and they can reply via text, Twitter, or a web browser. After everyone has replied, their answers instantly appear on the web or in your PowerPoint presentation.
Polling the audience creates engagement with legs. People like to share their opinion, and then to find out how their answers compare to their peers. It also allows the presenter to shape content that taps into the audience’s interests.
Allow audience members to ask questions in private.
It’s a common lament of speakers that few people ask questions during the presentation – yet afterwards people mob the speaker with them. Many audience members don’t feel comfortable raising their voice in a crowded room.
Capturing questions throughout makes for a more relevant presentation, so again, use a technology fix. Consider the tool Sli.do, which allows audience members to ask questions during a presentation. You create an event code, which your members can join via their smart phones. Either anonymously or with their name, audience members can ask a question, which you choose to moderate. You can check them during break, have a colleague or audience member assist with moderating, or even put questions into your live presentation.
Make the audience members the presenters.
Audience members love to see their colleagues get up in front of a group. Whenever speakers use volunteers, there’s a noticeable shift in attention as it changes the energy in the room. Anything can happen, and that’s interesting!
When you put your presentation together, consider places where you can ask the audience to address the group on a piece of content. Perhaps you divide up into teams to discuss an issue, and have them report out their findings. Another way to do this is to set up a role play with volunteers to demonstrate a point. When I do a session that includes storytelling, I’ll often ask the audience if anyone would like to share a story. Believe it or not, sometimes people do. And when they do, there’s always powerful learning involved.
Encourage live tweeting.
For those of us who’ve spent most of our lives without social media, it can be a leap to actually want people to be on their phones while we’re talking. But tweeting thoughts during a presentation is actually a way of getting people engaged. First of all, it forces people to pay attention so they can pull out relevant content. According to a Hubspot study, live-tweeting during presentations helps audience members share, retain, and engage with the content.
If you want to try it, create a hashtag for the presentation and ask people to use it before the start of your talk. Assign a Twitter monitor who can keep track of your Twitter feed for you during the presentation and let you know if anyone has any questions or important thoughts to which you can respond.
One other advantage is that live tweeting also engages those who couldn’t make it to the presentation, and provides a means to spread your message well beyond the in-person audience.
Have some ideas to share? Comment here or @kristihedges.
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. She blogs at kristihedges.com.
This post also appears on Forbes.com.
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