Three Simple Steps For Engaging An Audience

The success or failure of a presentation, is often decided in the speakers mind, by how engaged the audience appeared to be. 

If the speaker feels that the audience is disengaged, distracted or lacking in interest, it can be a real blow to the speakers confidence. 

However, the problem is, unless you are intentional about creating opportunities for engagement, it's hard to know where your audience are at. After all, people's relaxed, natural facial expressions are not the smiling, engaged faces we might hope to see. If anything, it's quite the opposite. 

So here are three ways in which you can provoke engagement from your audience; 

Plan An Unusual Kick Off

When people take their seats, ready to listen to a presentation, they make themselves comfortable and prepare for what is a typical presentation. If you want to provoke engagement from the beginning, why not start with an unusual request; 

'Can everyone please stand up for a moment please ...' 
'Turn to the person next to you and ....' 
'On the stage you will see  ....(illustrative prop)....' 

Everyone is expecting the speaker to spend the first 2 minutes introducing themselves, which is an immediate opportunity for disengagement. Truth is, 99% of the time, they're not coming to hear about you, your 6 grandkids and your love of trains' -  They've come to be inspired, educated or challenged to think. 

Why not dive straight in with an activity, an illustration, a question or your first point? You can always weave in your introduction later.

Within 2 minutes of arriving on stage, I currently have my audiences standing up, shouting things out and being ridiculous. This sets them up for the style of comedy I'm about to share with them and it also engages them right from the start. 


Never ask for volunteers 

Ok, so you've found an illustration that requires people from the audience to help you. This is a great idea and will most defiantly boost your attention and engagement from the rest of the audience. However, there's one mistake that many speakers make.

They ask for volunteers and are met with an awkward silence, with people turning their eyes away. The speaker stands there, feeling awkward and not sure how to proceed if no one comes up. Once you get one rejection of someone joining you upfront, the whole audience then buys into the same resistance. Those that do pipe up to volunteer are, 80% of the time, the worst possible choice of person to join you on stage and will only cause you trouble.  

Here's what to do;  

Boldly select someone in the audience, ask them their name, immediately followed by, 'John, would you kindly join me on stage, ladies and gentleman, let's welcome John onto stage'.  The pressure of the applause will encourage the person to join you. It's then your responsibility to treat them well, not humiliate them, make them look good - and of course, thank them graciously at the end. 

As a comedian, my engagement with participants on stage is full of banter. There's much I could say about this, but the relevant point for this blog, is to say that I always make an effort to personally find them after the show, and genuinely thank them for engaging and being a good sport. I want my participants to have enjoyed the show as much as the rest of the audience have.

Nothing frustrates me more than seeing an empty front row at events, knowing that it's the result of past experiences of people being humiliated on stage. 

Create a story arc 

Here's something I've been exploring with my show over the past few months, yet it's even more applicable to a motivational or inspirational speech. 

What does it look like to create a story arc throughout your presentation?  Is there a theme, an evolving plot, an unrealised aspiration that is communicated from the start, yet comes to fruition at the end of your speech. 

Can you finish by coming back to a story you told at the beginning? 
Can you start with a question that is left unanswered until the end? 
Can you use a significant phrase early in your conversation, that also becomes the final line of your speech?   (Even better, get your audience to speak it aloud at various points in your message) 


If you begin to consider and implement these three ideas above, you'll see that you not only capture the attention of you audience, but you can then retain it throughout the presentation. 

If you craft your presentation well, you should have a clear idea as to whether your audience engaged or not, No more guessing from their bland facial expressions, but actual evidence of engagement through the strategies you've implemented into your talk. 

Need support

In addition to the Comedy Magic, I've also done a lot of work in the charity sector. As an ambassador for two international charities, I've often used my platform at an event, to share about the work of the charity and encourage my audience to support that charity, perhaps through sponsorship. 

So in thinking about crafting a membership for those who speak, I'm zoning in on those with a message to share. Not necessarily those in charitable work, but those who want to inspire, encourage, engage and challenge others when communicating about the work they are doing.  This energises me and it's where I've had most experience, outside of the arts. 

If that's you - and you want some ongoing support in giving presentations that capture an audiences attention. Send me an email at [email protected] and I'll send some details. 


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