Audience Participation Adds Power to Your Presentations

To be remembered as powerful presenters, we must develop rapport with our audience. One of the most effective ways to do this is by involving each and every person through participation. Participation is more than asking for a show of hands in answer to some inane question like, “How many of you wish you had more time?” In this article I share tips on how to create meaningful audience participation.

Make use of Pike’s Law #2. Robert Pike, the training guru, states Law #2 in his useful book, Creative Training Techniques Handbook, as “People Don ‘t Argue with Their Own Data.” Audience members will take it for granted that we, as the speaker or trainer, believe what we are saying. However, if we can get them to state their beliefs early on by giving answers to meaningful questions or breaking into small groups to discuss a question and then report back with the answers they discussed, we will find that they will respond more readily to what we have to say.

Pike often uses the following two questions at the beginning of a workshop (which he will post, or have a member of the group post, on a flip chart). Imagine that the workshop is on effective communication. Question #1: “What happens when people don’t communicate effectively?” and Question #2: “What happens when we communicate effectively?” By taking time to have audience participation, he has already established the benefits of paying attention to what is going to follow during his presentation. I’ve used this method ever since I learned it, and it works!

Use the power of your eyes. Someone once described our eyes as the mirrors to our soul. Our eyes speak our true feelings, so when we are excited about what we are saying, our eyes should shine with that enthusiasm. Make individual eye contact with different members of the audience and hold it for at least three seconds. It is like holding a one-on-one conversation with them and they will stay with you and participate by hanging on your words.

Don’t share too many details. Let your audience members participate by filling in with their own descriptions and visuals. If you share a universal story of something that happened to you or someone in your family and then give them the time and space to think about it, they will participate by thinking about a similar story they have experienced, make it their own story and, in turn, internalize the point you are trying to make.

Active participation is terrific as long as it isn’t overdone or trite. There are many great ideas for engaging the audience in actively participating by moving around, interacting with another person or a group, or interacting with the speaker — often up on the stage. Splitting up into small groups to discuss a question or play a training game works quite well. I have personality forms and fun bingo sheets that people can use for networking with others in the room. John W. Newstrom and Edward E. Scannell have several books filled with excellent Games Trainers Play. These are well tested, make sense, and are fun to play. And, if you decide to bring someone or several people up on the stage, be sufficiently prepared. Know who you are going to pick before hand and why, along with exactly what you plan to do.

Just remember that you and your messages will be remembered in direct proportion to the amount of participation you have elicited from the audience.

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