Audience Participation in your Presentations

Have you ever been in this situation?

You walk into the room. The presenter is standing toward the front of the room, the first row of seats is empty as usual, and people are scattered around the room. You find an empty seat and sit as the presentation begins.

Very soon into the presentation, the speaker shouts out a question to the audience, “What are your biggest hurdles as you strive to be successful in your career?” He/she looks out into the audience and waits for a hand to go up or someone to shout out an answer… nothing.

If you are the presenter, I have a solution for you! I tried it and it works better than I could have imagined.

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to be a presenter at the District 13 Toastmasters Leadership Institute. Two back-to-back one-hour presentations, specially designed to train the incoming Vice Presidents of Education.

As I planned for the day, I decided that the biggest benefit (when I was in the audience) was learning from the experience of others in the audience. I wanted to take advantage of those in the audience who were long-time Toastmasters, had been club officers before, and had a wealth of knowledge and experience to help those newer than they.

But how would I stimulate participation? Do you do anything special to encourage audience participation?

I remembered a technique that I had never tried. I instructed them to break into groups of three and write down as many answers to my question as they could in 60 seconds. I would tell them the question, time them and then stop them. I chose, “What do you hope to learn today, or what would you like to learn today to help you be a better VP of Ed?” I yelled, “Start!”. I started the stopwatch and listened as the chattering jumped like a racehorse off the starting line. 60 seconds went by and I yelled, “STOP!”

I then had a volunteer come up to the podium and write down answers as I asked them to share their answers.

The theory says that this technique cuts through the hesitation to speak up by eliminating the fear of the large group, and allows them to speak with a small group instead. The simple act of speaking to each other, in a rapid-fire brainstorming method (60 seconds) creates a momentum of speaking up and participating. Then when you ask them to share their answers, you tap into that momentum and they are likely to continue speaking up as you shift the direction from the small group to the larger audience.

It worked wonderfully! I had intended to use it several times in the course of the two hours. However, it worked so well the first time. I was able to continue interacting with the entire audience for the rest of the day. I consider it a resounding success.

Give it a try. Be prepared to use it several times. Be ready if you only need it once. Help your audience take part in the presentation.

Copyright 2008 Michael Cortes

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