We’ve all sat through our share of boring presentations. It’s mind-numbing to be forced to listen to dry content that’s delivered (or worse, read) at us, rather than discussed with us. Often, all this talking is in vain anyway. As this article cites, studies show 91% of listeners at business presentations admitted to daydreaming, and an impressive 39% to downright falling asleep at some point.
This gets even more interesting considering that we spend 37% of our time in meetings and presentations.
On the flip side, as the presenter, it’s unnerving to be looking out at a sea of faces who look like they’d rather be somewhere else. We can only hope for a dynamic, engaged crowd who interacts with us and with each other. But that interaction doesn’t come by accident – it’s up to the speaker to frame their presentation to encourage audience participation.
Having audience interaction makes our presentation more interesting and easier on everyone. It’s helpful to have strategies to get the audience involved early and often. People will pay attention if they know that at some point, they’ll have to participate. And providing the audience the opportunity to interact with each other adds a peer learning dimension to a presentation. Public speaking expert Lisa B. Marshall even suggests that the influence of social media might mean this desire to get involved is even greater than it was before.
If you’re looking for ways to make your next presentation more engaging and interactive, try these ideas. You’ll look like a rock star – and your audience will be very grateful.
Ask for interaction.
It sounds too obvious – yet it works. Start your presentation by telling the audience you want their questions and that you expect interaction. Tell them when you’d like them to ask, and if you’ll have designated times for it.
This will help keep them paying attention and coming up with questions they want to ask you. If you’re speaking at a larger venue, like a conference, Marshall also shows how you can take this idea to another level, inviting the audience to blog, tweet, and otherwise share their thoughts about what they’re learning.
She also offers a provocative idea to put up a sign asking for interruptions at the beginning of the session. It’s a constant reminder to interact.
Ask a great question at the beginning to get people talking.
When it comes to presentations, most of us are used to being talked to, rather than being asked to share our own thoughts. Opening with a question turns this idea on its head. You can ask the audience what they’d like to get out of the session or why they came. You can poll the group for their opinion about a topic.
To make even more of an impact, Kristin Arnold, President of the U.S. National Speakers Association recommends “asking an engaging question—and then be silent. Wait for the answer. If you suffer the silence for one or two seconds and look like you are expecting a response, someone will answer you!”
Get people’s opinion.
One evergreen rule of presenting is to know your audience. One way to do that is to ask them what they actually think. You can go so far as to point to a specific person and ask for their opinion (works best in a small group) or to query a portion of the room.
You want to be tactful and not make people feel put on the spot, so make sure it’s a topic that the person can actually speak to. Encourage them to share, i.e. “Mary, I think your perspective on this is valuable. Would you mind sharing with the group?”
Build in audience discussion and reporting.
Numerous studies have shown that being asked to participate in a presentation makes listeners more interested and engaged. As a frequent speaker, I have seen how much people enjoy the opportunity to talk with those sitting around them during a presentation. It brings variety and deepens the learning through discussion.
Ask listeners to divide into small groups and discuss a concept for a few minutes, then share what they’ve talked about with the rest of the audience. Or another option is to make this portion of your presentation a game, and ask the teams to brainstorm ideas about your presentation topics.
We don’t usually associate presentations and physical activity, and that’s why it’s engaging. Even simple movements like a show of hands can reinvigorate wandering minds. You can also take things a step further by having people stand or sit to show agreement, or, if you have a lot of time and a small enough audience, by dividing people into groups who share a commonality.
Finally, it can be effective to have people pick up and change seats. The action of going from one place to another breaks the monotony and further encourages connection among group members.