Lisa  Braithwaite

Article Summary:

Audience interaction is a key ingredient in preventing your dialogue from turning into a monologue.

Audience Interaction Tips for Public Speakers

One of the things that public speakers fear the most is losing the attention of the audience. When the audience drifts off into daydreams, it can be difficult to bring them back. How do you keep them from drifting off in the first place?

The key to grabbing and keeping the attention of your attendees is to involve them - to make your presentation interactive. Your purpose may be to market your business, to persuade them to buy your product, to persuade them to save the world. But if you're not involving them, paying attention to their needs and interests, you're going to lose them, and they won't come back.

Here are some pointers for incorporating interaction into your presentation, and keeping the audience focused on your message.

Pointer #1: Start with a question
You may or may not have had the opportunity to gather information on your audience in advance. Whether or not you've researched your attendees, it's always effective to start off with a question or series of questions. Some questions I've asked of past groups include:

  • "How many people in the room exercise every day? How many people would like to exercise every day?" I made a note of the people who said they exercised every day and came back to them later to have them share how they fit exercise into their lives.
  • "How many of you have ever felt so angry you wanted to hit someone? How many of you actually did hit someone when you were angry?" This question was used to illustrate the point during a domestic violence presentation that, even though we sometimes may feel angry enough to hit someone, most of us don't.
  • "On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, how many of you rank your public speaking skills between 10 and 7; how many between 6 and 4; how many between 3 and 1?" This one helps me get an idea of how the audience members perceive themselves as speakers and whether my content should lean toward basic or advanced.
Your question can also be humorous, to start off the seminar with a giggle. The important thing is to get the audience involved from the start. There is also a benefit to you in asking questions; you learn more about your audience, their interests and their needs.

Pointer #2: Use icebreakers and energizers
The purpose of icebreakers is to warm up the group, help them get to know each other and to create a bond and a positive atmosphere within the group. Energizers are to get people moving, thinking and re-energized, especially after lunch!

If you think back to some of the icebreakers you've done at seminars and conferences, you might be rolling your eyes right now. After all, not everyone wants to interact with her or his neighbor, and some icebreakers are intrusive and even embarrassing. The last thing you want to do is to make your audience members feel uncomfortable.

However, icebreakers done well are useful and fun. In addition to helping the audience members get to know each other, it also helps you get to know them. This is a great boost at an event where there is networking scheduled, or where part of the purpose is for the audience members to learn more about each other. Depending on the size of the group and the purpose of the seminar/training/workshop, different icebreakers will be effective.

Easy icebreakers can involve nothing more than one audience member turning to a neighbor and sharing a piece of information. I keep a tin filled with questions on strips of paper to be handed out in smaller groups. Some of the questions: "If you could choose a new name for yourself, what would it be?" "What did you eat for breakfast this morning and who prepared it?" "What is your favorite time of day, and why?" More complicated icebreakers involve games, scavenger hunts, and physical activities like the "human knot" that probably everyone on the planet has had to disentangle at least once!

Search the web for sites that offer suggestions for icebreakers and energizers.

Pointer #3: Break the audience into pairs or groups
At some point, you may require the audience to do an activity that requires more dialogue. Breaking the larger group into pairs (also called dyads) or small groups allows them to have a private discussion, which then can be shared with the larger group.

Some people are not comfortable talking in a large group. Some people talk more than everyone else, monopolizing the speaker. Breaking into groups encourages your audience to dig deeper into the topic while giving everyone a fair shake at participating.

Pointer #4: Ask for input
This is a great way for you to learn from your audience, and for the audience to learn from each other. Adults have a lifetime of experience and knowledge to share, and in a learning situation, it's especially important for adults to contribute to the learning process. Personal relevance and the ability to apply learning to real-life situations are more important to adults than someone else telling them what's important to know.

Bring a flip chart or overhead projector and ask the audience for their input. Write down their words and use them in your presentation. Make sure to note new ideas or concepts that might fit into a future presentation.

Allowing audience members to share some of their own experiences and expertise makes the process more relevant for them, and creates a richer experience for everyone involved. Incorporate interaction into your talks, and you're unlikely ever again to lose an audience member to daydreams.

Lisa Braithwaite works with individuals to uncover their challenges and build their strengths in presenting themselves confidently as speakers. Find your voice with public speaking coaching! Sign up for my newsletter and find out about my free consultation by visiting www.coachlisab.com.

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