As adults, we are active hands-on learners. That means the people sitting in your audience want to be engaged in your message--visually, audibly, and tactically.
By involving your listeners, you not only create rapport and make a personal connection, you help them understand your content and remember your message. To optimize your effectiveness as a presenter, strive to appeal to all three styles of learners who will be in your audience. Here are 15 proven techniques to help you engage with every listener.
1. Conduct a pre-session survey
. For starters, you can send attendees an online survey prior to meeting with them. This step builds interest and engages them in your topic before they even arrive. If appropriate, also send reading material.
2. Invite introductions
. If you have 20 or fewer audience members, and they do not know one another, consider saying, "For the benefit of those who have not met everyone, let's take about 10 seconds each to briefly introduce ourselves. Please include your name and area of responsibility." This gets them talking, sets the tone for participation, and helps break the ice.
3. Record their wish list
. In the first few minutes of the presentation, ask the group what they would like to learn or gain from the session. What are their objectives? Write their responses on a flip chart and be sure to either address the items during the presentation or commit to follow up.
4. Request their input on your topic.
Rather than spoon-feeding listeners with one-way communication, invite them to think about a question you pose and share their thoughts aloud with you and the group. For example, Marc, the executive vice president of business strategy for a leading auto manufacturer, recently started a presentation to his board by asking, "What do you believe are the Top 10 Business Risks for Multinational Firms?" Within five minutes, all 15 senior leaders in the room had chimed in. Marc listed their responses on a flip chart, and the session was off to a stimulating, engaging start.
5. Show a photo
. Use pictures when you want to: a) Capture attention; b) Show a person, place, or event; c) Evoke audience emotions; and d) Simplify an abstract or complex idea. Generally speaking, photos are more memorable than text and immediately engage the audience's imagination.
6. Play a video or audio clip
. Show a customer-testimonial video; play a recorded message from the company president; use sound bites from key opinion leaders; take the audience on a virtual facility tour; play a movie clip, to name a few possibilities. Multi-media provides variation in the format and allows the audience to experience your message visually and audibly from different perspectives.
7. Use creative props
CEO of a large insurance company, who was an avid tennis player, brilliantly used a tennis racquet to drive home the key points of his strategy at an employee meeting. Metaphorically he talked about "acing the competition"; "rallying" with partners; winning a "grand slam" through good customer service and quality products. What prop might be relevant and meaningful for you to use in your next presentation?
8. Give away prizes
. Everybody likes to be a winner. Consider awarding correct answers or helpful volunteers with a prize. Or, place attendee names in a grab bag and periodically select a lucky winner. Popular prizes range from gift cards for coffee, books, and music to leather portfolios, coffee mugs, T-shirts, and corporate-branded paraphernalia. Caution: Be sure to check with company officials to ensure that gifts are allowed and, if so, what the limit is on the gift amount.
9. Ask the audience questions during the presentation
. Regularly check in to ensure your audience is on track, understands your message, and has the opportunity to ask their questions as they arise. This list may include questions such as, "What do you think of the content you've seen so far?" "How do you see this solution fitting into your current environment?" "Has this situation ever happened in your organization?"
10. Ask for volunteers
. Audience members are usually happy to write on a flip chart, track the time, record action items, share a personal story, assist with an activity, or draw a name out of the hat. They're just waiting for an invitation to participate.
11. Play fill-in-the-blank
. Ask listeners to guess certain facts or data, or leave blanks on your slides and ask them to fill in the missing words. This level of audience participation keeps people engaged, provides a fun sense of play, and lets their intelligence shine.
12. Facilitate a discussion
. Encourage dialogue.
Ask listeners to discuss concerns or topics with one another in pairs or at tables. Then discuss small-group ideas in the large group. By getting your attendees involved in the discussion and letting them talk, you significantly increase the impact of your message.
13. Use learning aids
. Tactile-kinesthetic listeners especially enjoy having an item on the table to hold, squeeze, or manipulate. The physical involvement keeps them engaged and alert. For ideas, enter "office toys" in your search engine. The choices are almost endless including stress relief balls, bendable toys, Slinky toys, cube puzzles, finger puppets, and Koosh Balls. Learning aids can illustrate points, entertain, increase learning, entice participation, promote your company, build your brand, and inject fun into your presentation.
14. Use humor.
Everyone likes to laugh. A tasteful cartoon, clever quote, humorous story, funny anecdote, or well-told joke works wonders for audience connection.
15. Tell a story to illustrate your point
. Of all the tools in your kit, telling a well-crafted story is among the most powerful. As you begin to think about your story, consider these questions:
--What's the setting (time, place, characters)?
--What adversity or challenge did you face?
--Who or what helped you overcome the difficulty?
--What's the moral of the story or lessons learned?
If you would like to learn more about audience engagement techniques and delivering a powerful persuasive presentation, please read my book Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results (available in hard cover, audio, and Kindle).
Feel free to contact me directly to schedule an in-house corporate training event or private individual coaching for you and your team. I would be honored to support your presentation and communication success.