Speaker interacting with the audience

Interactive Presentations: 7 Foolproof Ways to Engage the Audience

A little naptime is no crime during a boring presentation, right? I am certain all of us have dozed off, scrolled through our phones, traveled to our ‘dreamlands’ at some point in time during a dull presentation.

But as a speaker, the last thing you want is your audience to do the above-mentioned things. One way to stop your audience from distracting is by making your presentation more interactive.

Audience listening attentively.

Presentations can be made interesting only if there is some amount of interaction with the audience because let’s face it- listening to a person continuously talking for a great amount of time can get very annoying.

Holding the attention of the audience for a long time is challenging and hence, getting the audience to speak their thoughts can keep them from losing interest.

The age of one-sided lectures has long ended. The audience these days enjoy sessions that are entertaining and engaging. Listening to the speaker for straight 50 minutes can no longer be entertained by the audience. This is why is audience interaction is needed where the speaker gets to know his/her audience a little better.

Why engage the audience?

The audience is the most important part of any presentation. Moreover, making sure that the audience is understanding what the speaker talks about is very essential, mainly because it helps the speaker to analyze which part of the presentation to focus on as per the audience’s understanding and knowledge.

This insight can be gained only through a certain amount of interaction with the audience.

Apart from this, audience interaction can lead to better attention on the part of the audience. It also helps the listeners connect with the speaker’s words and emotions.

Lack of interaction with the audience can lead to them getting bored and inattentive. Adding to that, seeing a bunch of inattentive faces in the audience can make the speaker edgy and will often tend to speed up the presentation- entirely losing on the aspect of making the audience understand the content of the presentation.

Another important reason for engaging the audience is to get to know their opinions and beliefs. It is very crucial to understand what are the audience’s beliefs and thoughts on the particular topic of the speech because it helps the speaker to connect with the audience. This connection is of significant importance to build rapport.

Techniques on interactive presentations

Here are a few techniques on how to effectively interact with the audience.

1. Interactive openers

It can be helpful to inform the audience about the interactive sessions ahead of them by signaling them about an icebreaker or the “why question”.

Warming up with an icebreaker
To put it simply, an icebreaker is a simple activity that intends to warm up the conversation among the audience and also with the facilitator.

To make sure that everyone interacts in the conversation, the icebreaker must include a maximum number of participants. For instance, an effective icebreaker can be asking a question about- What’s your favorite item that you have brought this month? 

It should be kept in mind that icebreaker questions should be general ones so that everyone has something to contribute to the discussion.

“WHY?” question
As mentioned above, it is important to understand the beliefs of the audience. One way of doing this is by asking the question “Why?” at the beginning of the presentation. This will make the audience ponder a little about questions like- “Why should I be here?” or “Why is this important to me?”. 

2. Questions

The most basic way to interact with the audience is by asking them questions.

Asking questions in a presentation.

Asking questions
This method of asking questions to the audience will help the speaker gain insight into how much has the audience followed. It also makes the audience feel as if they are a part of the presentation. These questions can be subjective questions or also “Raise your hand questions”.

Questions should be asked every 15-20 minutes as the attention span of the audience usually drops after some amount of time. Hence, these questions should act as ‘energizer questions’ bringing back the attention of the participants.

However, picking on people should be avoided as it often creates anxiety among the participants.

Questions can be added at the end of the presentation or can also be mixed with the ongoing topic. Questions need not be only relating to the subject matter but can also be as simple as:

Have you heard of that saying?
Does anybody know where that place is?

Polls and MCQs
Using polling tools to interact with the audience is the best way to get to know their opinions. In the crowd that is being addressed to, there may be people who might not want to answer direct subjective questions, hence polls and MCQ questions can be a good way to get their opinions and expertise.

Apps like polleverywhere.com can be used for collecting and broadcasting poll results.

Often shy and reserved people tend to not speak much during an interactive session. Hence, using tools like polls and MCQ questions ensures participation by the reserved participants.

3. Encouraging discussions

By encouraging discussions, it gives the audience space to speak their thoughts. This can be done by asking participants to discuss things with their neighbors or by breaking them into small groups and then asking these groups to present their points of discussion.

For example, some discussion questions can be How to deal with stage fear? or How are you best motivated?

Breaking participants into small groups is often effective as not everyone would be willing to speak in public. This is mainly because the prior- reserved attendees will be somewhat more confident while speaking as they are aware that the rest of the group would chip in if help needed.

4. Move and get the audience to move

There should be some amount of movement both for the speaker and the audience.

Getting off the stage
A back and forth movement by the speaker on the stage can also seem a little monotonous. To make your presentation stand out, one can get off the stage and mingle with the audience.

Speakers leaving the stage are seldom and hence, this draws the attention of the audience. Moreover, walking in the crowd and interacting with them will make the audience feel more relatable.

Getting off the seats
Long presentations often get tedious. To avoid this, the speaker can ask the audience to stand up and introduce themselves or also go around the room and make some new friends.

By doing so, participants are made to talk to others and feel more comfortable instead of only listening to the speaker.

Call people on the stage
An effective way of interacting with the audience can be by sharing the presenting role. Calling people on the stage can at times be helpful while giving an example.

For instance, while doing a presentation on game theory instead of giving an example of person A and person B, it would be more efficacious if two random people from the audience are asked to come on the stage and demonstrate the example.

5. Use humour

Extremely tensed presentations will automatically lead to an inattentive audience. Hence, it is important to lighten the mood and the best way to do that is by using humor.

Using this technique also helps the participants to understand and remember the concepts better. This may not be a direct way of interacting with the audience but an indirect way to connect with them.

An example of this could be a speech of Barack Obama where he jokes about how the government is building an Ironman while announcing the creation of high-tech manufacturing hubs.

6. Different ways of learning

For an interactive session to take place, one-sided lectures should be totally avoided, and methods such as games or showing videos should be incorporated into the presentation.  

Games and quizzes
Games are fun for everyone especially when there are prizes. This technique enhances interaction and also increases the level of excitement among the audience.

Conducting a quiz based on the content of the presentation also gives the speaker sufficient information on the amount of content grasped by the audience.

Videos and photos
It is important to show the audience relevant photos and videos of the topic as it helps them understand the topic better. Asking the audience to describe or summarise the visuals can be an effective way of interacting.

People are often more attentive to videos and hence asking them what did they take away from the video can serve as an insightful interaction.

 7. Ask for summaries

A good way to end a presentation is by asking the audience to help you summarise the session or the ongoing topic. By doing so, the speaker will get an idea as to how well the participants have understood the concept.

It’s rightly said that “Catching one’s attention is easy but keeping one’s interest is harder.” To make a good and interactive presentation, it is necessary to keep the audience both- attentive and interested, as such an audience will always remember the speaker and also the presentation.

A good presentation is understanding the audience and also keeping them on the edge of their seats. This can only be made sure by interacting effectively with them.

Too much interaction will make it difficult for the speaker to make his/her point and cover the content of the presentation, however, too little will make the audience tired and uninterested.

An appropriate amount of interaction will make the audience feel as if the speaker is talking to them and not at them.

Levels of audience interaction

It is a little too optimistic to believe that the audience will directly start interacting with the speaker the moment he/she enters the stage. It should be kept in mind that it will be difficult for the audience to directly start talking to you, so it should be kept in mind to give them some time to “meet the speaker”.

Asking them questions from the start might give you only blank stares, thus it is essential to understand the different levels of interaction.

Audience interaction in a meeting.

Level 1- Meeting the audience

The first few minutes when you are standing in front of your audience, it is best to give them some time to feel comfortable enough to answer your questions. Familiarity and comfort in these initial minutes will give shape to the latter interaction.

At this level, cracking a joke or telling something about oneself often lightens the mood and makes the audience familiar with the speaker’s background.

Level 2- Interacting with themselves

The second level comprises of the audience interacting with themelves and giving some time to think about how they feel regarding a particular topic. Rhetorical questions like, “Pause for a moment and think when was the last time you were truly happy?”

This is a way of indirectly interacting with the participants for a more involved interaction later.

Level 3- Interacting as one

It is important to take things step by step, meaning- asking them to think about an answer followed by a show of hands and later asking if they would be interested in playing a game.

Here, the speaker asks the audience to interact as one large group. This may include Yes or No questions or also the typical raise your hand questions. At this level, the audience is supposed to do more than just think as opposed to the previous level.

Level 4- Interact with the neighbour

This could be a simple discussion with their neighbor on a given topic or a game. Some people may be a little shy to speak to the facilitator and hence, speaking with their neighbors will make them feel as if they are also a part of the discussion.

Level 5- Interacting in groups

At this level, people can be divided into small groups, and then one member can be asked to reiterate the points of discussion. However, it should be kept in mind that prior to this level, participants should be given some time to get to know their other fellow mates.

This may be a “high-risk interaction” for some people who are reserved and don’t usually speak in public and hence, this should be kept short.

How to make virtual presentations more interactive?

Virtual presentations have recently gained a lot of attention due to the various uncertainties faced because of the pandemic. However, virtual presentations are often a task as it is difficult to know the reactions of the audience. In a physical setting, the speaker can get to know a lot by the non-verbal behavior of the audience, which is not possible in a virtual meeting.

The above-mentioned tips can be used in a virtual and also a physical set-up, however, some other techniques can need to be kept in mind for a virtual meeting.

Audience interaction in a virtual meeting.

Know the online platform features

Before using Zoom or Google Meet, it is essential to know the features of these platforms to ensure better usage. For instance, Zoom has a feature of annotation which allows the participants to use the screen. This feature can be used by the speaker in order to include more and more participants in the discussion.

Another feature of Zoom is that it also allows breakout rooms for discussions for a small group of people.

Keep videos on

As a virtual speaker, it is important to keep your video on as expecting your audience to listen while staring at a blank screen can be a little tedious. As a speaker, you can also ask your audience to keep their videos on depending on their comfort level.

The main reason being that by keeping their videos on, the audience is less likely to get distracted and will pay more attention to the screen.

Join early

By joining the meeting 5 minutes early than the designated time, can give you some time to know your audience. Moreover, this can also make the audience a little familiar with the speaker. An informal chit-chat can always help!

Questions like ‘Describe how you are feeling using an emoji’ or ‘Which was the last movie that you watched?’ can help lighten the mood. Make sure to include as many people as possible in these informal discussions.

How to make interactive PowerPoint games?

1. Quizzes

Quizzes are the easiest way to know the audience’s knowledge about the topic of the presentation. It can also work as an ice-breaker. PowerPoint has a special template called the “Who wants to be a Millionaire” which can be downloaded for free.

Here’s the free template- https://slidelizard.com/en/blog/who-wants-to-be-a-millionaire-powerpoint-template

2. Where do you stand

This game will ensure interaction and also some amount of movement on the participant’s side. For this game, you can request your participants to keep their videos on (if in a virtual set-up) as there will be an imaginary line drawn across the room where different points of the line express different opinions.

The participants can then be requested to stand as per their opinions. For instance, far left presents agreeing whereas far right represents disagreeing.

3. Memory

This is another great way of recalling what the audience remembers, where pictures can be added as per the speaker’s content. A free template of memory can be downloaded by clicking on the link below.

https://slidelizarddata.blob.core.windows.net/homepage-assets/blog/28-powerpoint-presentation-games/PowerPoint%20Memory%20Game%20-%20Template%20by%20SlideLizard.pptx

4. Pair-Up

In this game, there are several words that are juxtaposed, and the participants are supposed to find the words that form a pair. A hint as to how many such pairs are given in the slide can be given at the bottom of the slide.

Click on the link below to download the PowerPoint template- https://tekhnologic.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/pair-up.pptx

Concluding remarks

A good speaker realizes the importance of effective interactions with the audience members in order to make them understand the content better. As a speaker, it should be kept in mind that more the interaction, better the understanding on the part of the audience which serves as a memorable experience.

Hrideep Barot

Hrideep Barot is the founder and chief writer at Frantically Speaking, a portal to help people learn everything about public speaking. The purpose of franticallyspeaking.com is to showcase the lessons that he has learned (and still learning) from his numerous stage experiences and mentors over all these years.