How to Engage Your Audience

Learn how to add interactivity to your presentations.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #91

Engage the Audience with Activities and Questions

Aside from having audience members ask questions and tweet during a presentation, you can also engage the audience by including a physical activity. Keep in mind that physical activities take a bit of time, so you need to weigh the benefits of the interactivity with the amount of time it will take to complete the activity.

One option is to ask everyone to stand up. Then begin asking questions designed to get people to sit down. “Sit down if you have less than one year of experience. Sit down if you have less than five years experience”. That is a very simple way to poll the audience without the use of technology.

Just be sure that whatever you ask is relevant and adds value to the overall discussion. In fact it is important to plan, prepare, and test all questions and activities ahead of time to be sure you understand the possible responses and are sure these responses genuinely add to the learning process. Many people go wrong here. They ask a trite question that doesn’t advance the topic or add any value or sometimes they get an unexpected answer and don’t know how to move on with the program.

Ask Participants to Group Themselves

Another way to get your audience to physically move around is to ask them to group themselves in different parts of the room. For example, when I do a program relating to communication styles, I describe four different styles then I ask the participants to go to the corner of the room that best describes their style. You can also set up a scale or continuum (from strongly disagree to strongly agree) using chairs. Then as you ask questions, have participants line up near their chosen response chair. If you do this, it’s important to get people to move quickly but safely and to clearly mark the chairs so there is no confusion.  

Ask For Examples and Explanations

A good wrap up-activity is to ask participants to share one or two things they found useful or what they might do differently as a result of hearing the talk.

If you don’t have time for physical activity, you’ll want to at least engage your audience by asking them questions. For example, in one of my public speaking presentations I ask the audience “How do you do overcome nervousness?”

As participants share different approaches, I use each response as an opportunity to talk about the research related to the approach they mention. I have all the approaches listed in my notes and mentally check them off as I get responses from the audience.

Typically when I use this approach, I prepare a summary slide ahead of time of the possible responses. Once the audience has enumerated most or all the items on my list and we’ve discussed them, I then put the summary slide up as a review. Questions like the one I just mentioned about overcoming nervousness are excellent ways to generate audience interaction. I use this technique frequently. Besides, when the summary slides go up, you’ll look like a mind reader!

Ask Questions Using the Backchannel

Another way to get audience participation is to embed the questions you want to ask within your presentation so they’re automatically tweeted out to the backchannel as you are presenting. I mentioned in last week’s article that this can not only engage those in the room, but can also create interaction with a broader audience beyond those in-person attendees.

Finally, a good wrap up-activity is to ask participants to post, write down, or share aloud one or two things they found useful in the presentation or what they might do differently as a result of hearing the talk.

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This is, Lisa B. Marshall, The Public Speaker. Passionate about communication, your success is my business.

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If you have a question, send email to publicspeaker@quickanddirtytips.com. For information about keynote speeches or workshops, visit lisabmarshall.com.

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About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.