Engaging Your Audience During a Presentation

Engaging Your Audience During a Presentation

Think about the best presentation you’ve ever attended. Did the speaker drone on endlessly, simply reading bullet points verbatim from each Powerpoint slide? Did they awkwardly call for questions after the end of a lengthy speech that no one listened to? Was anyone even still awake when the presentation came to an end?

Probably not – and this is because a successful speaker knows that engaging your audience during a presentation is key.

However, engaging an audience can be extremely difficult to do these days. In an era of lightning-quick internet and ultra-fast mobile phones, human attention spans are shorter than ever.

In fact, a recent study by Microsoft revealed that since 2000 (in other words, the beginning of the mobile revolution) the average adult attention span fell from 12 seconds all the way down to eight seconds.

Even though the cards are stacked against today’s presenters, an engaging presentation is still totally possible. You just have to know how to go about it. Below, you’ll find ten engaging ways to involve your audience during presentation.

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9 Ways to Engage Your Audience during a Presentation:

1) Start by Asking Your Audience What They Want

An audience attends a presentation because they hope to learn something…so as the presenter, it’s your job to figure out what.

Start your speech by identifying what your audience members’ issues, challenges or questions are and plan to address each one in your presentation.

In order to ensure you get to each one, write them down in your notes or on a large flip chart and try to connect each to appropriate points during the presentation or, at the very least, promise to follow up at the end.

2) Be Real, True and Authentic to You

While you might strive to sound professional, accomplished and qualified during your presentation, it may actually come across as arrogant and rub your audience members the wrong way.

Presenters who think too highly of themselves and their accomplishments tend to come across as snooty or inauthentic. However, this doesn’t mean you should try to hide or downplay your achievements.

By all means, share your success with your audience…but make sure it’s at the right time and expressed in the right way. Instead of presenting a laundry list of your accomplishments, let them flow naturally into your presentation.

The story of how you achieved your success will be much more meaningful than all your titles, certifications and job experience.

3) Communication With The Appropriate Clarity and Pace

Speed and speech are crucial to a killer presentation. People tend to speak too quickly when they are nervous – so remember to slow down, enunciate and make eye contact with your audience.

But don’t go too slow and stay on the same points for too long…this will be boring and redundant for your audience.

4) Open up to Your Audience

Public speaking can be scary – and it’s almost instinctual to close down or tense up due to nerves. However, being open and vulnerable with your audience will make for a much more engaging presentation.

Let people know that you’re human too – share a personal story that resulted in failure and what you learned from it. Everyone makes mistakes and once your audience sees that you do too, it will be much easier for them to connect with and relate to you.

5) Incorporate Creative Props and Relevant Media

Clever props or compelling audio or visual clips can really help elevate your performance and keep audience members interested. However, it’s important that they closely relate to the content of your presentation – they should complement what you’re saying as opposed to distract from it.

So for example, don’t show a viral YouTube video just to get a few laughs if it doesn’t have anything to do with your presentation.

Instead, show customer testimonials, examples of marketing messages or other relevant clips. It might not be quite as side-splitting as a viral video, but well-placed audio/visual clips will provides variation in the presentation, allowing audience members to see and hear from different speakers.

6) Supply Handouts to Supplement What You’re Saying

Lengthy speeches or presentations can be difficult to take in – especially if you have a lot of intense or detailed information to cover.

If you plan on sharing in-depth or complicated content, create helpful handouts for your audience.

These don’t have to be printouts of every single slide of your Powerpoint presentation…they can be simple reports, charts, graphs or really anything that you think will help your audience better understand the info.

7) Keep The Comedy to a Minimum

Although humor can be engaging and lighten the mood, it can also quickly become offensive and unprofessional. For this reason, jokes should be fun and light-hearted – they should never attack a certain individual or group of people.

Remember: you’re giving a presentation – not delivering a stand-up comedy skit.

8) Open Dialogue With Your Audience

Don’t talk at your audience – talk with them. Encourage an open dialogue with your audience as opposed to a straightforward presentation.

Instead of waiting until the end for questions, tell your audience to ask questions throughout. Build in time for group feedback or even small group or side sessions and spur discussion.

Keeping conversation flowing throughout will help your audience stay engaged.

9) Always End Early

Ending early is the best way to ensure an engaged audience. Now this doesn’t mean cut crucial info from your presentation – it simply means to get to the point faster and leave time open for valuable discussion.

This will also show your audience that you value and respect their time.

How to Engage an Audience During a Presentation

The most interesting, entertaining and memorable presentations all have one thing in common: audience engagement. But with short attention spans, this is harder to do than ever – but not impossible.

When it comes to engaging your audience during a presentation, you just have to be upfront and ask them what they want, communicate clearly, be creative, encourage dialog and most importantly, be respectful of their time.

And if you really want to be an engaging speaker, ask your audience for feedback. Encourage them to share their critiques afterward or leave anonymous comment cards. It can be a little scary – but their insight will help you ensure better, more engaging presentations next time.

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10 comments on “Engaging Your Audience During a Presentation

  1. Audience engagement can be the difference between being a success and a flop. If you can keep people interested in any way, they will listen more and take more away from your talk/event/seminar. Great article, I agree with a lot of your points here.

    My Question though, is what do you think is the best way to try and gain engagement when you can see that they just don’t want to give back? Or would you try to cut it short and stop the presentation as quickly as possible?

    1. Hi Petar,

      When you know you are on a loser I personally would cut it as short as possible – some audiences have already made their mind up before you start speaking!

  2. You have give some excellent ideas on how to engage your audience doing a presentation Chris!
    This is very timely for me, as I am about to put together my first webinar presentation, and you have given me some ideas that will definitely help!
    I particularly like the point of being real, true, and authentic to yourself, sometimes, I think a lot of people doing presentations can try to be something that they are not and it just doesn’t work!
    Some great ideas here, thanks a lot 🙂

  3. Get up and talking to peers or superiors can be very intimidating ended. These tips that you have given will be life changing for a lot of people. I for one hated presentations, but it’s one of those things that has to be done. Thank you for your post, I will be taking your advice to heart.

    1. Hi Nathan.

      Even though I wrote the article – I actually hate presentations myself (and ANYTHING that involves getting up and talking in front of people!). It’s all about putting the points above into action…and practice makes perfect!

  4. Recently I started a new project, a self advancement project of becoming a good speaker. I really admire how great leaders speak and move natioms for instance Martin Luther.. using these tips ..i can underpin my books for becoming a better orator. One issue i am still struggling with is forgeting pointa while on stage. It really freaks me out. I hope i will learn never to to forget my point. Thanks for this piece ..its very informative

    1. That’s a great man to learn from there mate – Martin Luther. If you can muster 10% of what he did speaking you will be well on your way to success!

  5. I think that how a presentation is perceived depends also from the listener’s learning modality.
    I find your first tip very useful, but still difficult to do in practice. How can you formulate a question like this at the beginning of the presentation?
    What do you suggest doing when members of your audience chat with each other during the presentation?

    1. Well first off the bat is – don’t talk to your audience….talk with them!

      This is something you should really have learned first before even attempting to read an article on engaging an audience in a presentation setup.

      If your audience are chatting then you have failed at the first hurdle – it’s back to the drawing board for you I’m afraid!

      You should also think about preparing your audience BEFORE the presentation gets moving.

      Seriously – a chatting audience should definitely not be a problem if you have done your homework!

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