Has a boring speaker ever put you to sleep? Your head begins to nod as you fight off the urge to slip mercifully into the Land of the Z’s. Or has your mind ever wandered during someone’s dull presentation? Although you appear to listen intently, what you are really thinking about are the million tasks waiting for you at home.
Sure, this has happened to all of us, more than we would like to admit. However, don’t let it happen to you when you are the speaker. The key to keeping your audience from taking a mental exit is to involve them in your talk. Yes! Studies show that the more you involve your audience, the more they retain. Why? Because they are listening!
You can involve your audience in several ways, and I have listed 5 of my favorites below. Select those that will work well with your presentation and that feel genuine to you. If it feels uncomfortable, it will look uncomfortable—so don’t use it.
1. Ask questions.
Questions will cause your audience members to try to think of an answer. They can’t help it – it is simply how our brains are wired. If the energy in the room starts to drop, ask a question and select a member of your audience to respond. Then, thank him or her for participating and move on to the next person. Don’t worry about loosing control of your audience. Sales guru Brian Tracy emphasizes, “He (she) who asks questions is in control.” I personally prefer questions like “How many of you . . .,” and then I ask for a show of hands. These closed-ended questions get your audience involved both mentally and physically.
2. Finish your sentence.
For example, if you said to your audience, “Lions and tigers and bears . . .” and did not finish the sentence, what do you think they would say? As long as they are familiar with the movie The Wizard of Oz, they would respond with “Oh my!” This is a fun way to get your audience to participate. If they know the answer, they will blurt it out. If they don’t, you answer it. Choose something that should be so obvious they will absolutely get it.
This is one of my personal favorites, and if you have attended one of my talks you have experienced it firsthand. If you ever feel like the energy in the room is heavy, you can change it by using this technique. Simply ask a question (remember the power of asking questions). Ask, “Is this good stuff?” When your audience responds with “Yes,” say “Then, turn to the people on either side of you and give them a high-five and say ‘This is good stuff!’” Most people get a kick out of it. However, if you have an individual in your audience who does not want to participate, don’t worry about it. Some people simply just don’t want to have fun.
4. Do exercises.
I learned this trick from the famous millionaire T. Harv Ecker when I took his “Train the Trainer” course. He says, “Get your audience to do the work.” To accomplish this, ask them to break into groups of two or three (with people that they don’t know) and give them an exercise that is congruent with your presentation. Afterward, ask them to share openly with the rest of the group and thank them for doing so.
5. Give them candy.
Reward your audience for participating, and they will participate even more. Simply ask a question and when someone answers it, gently throw a small piece of candy to that person. I find that chocolate works best. You will find that it becomes a game and people will compete for the chocolate. I don’t use this throughout my entire speech, only for a few minutes in the middle of my talk.
There are many other ways and techniques to get your audience involved. What is important as a speaker is for you to come up with as many different ways as you can think of that are appropriate for your audience and for you as a speaker. Believe me, your audience will thank you.