How to Engage the Audience When Presenting
When you present, it’s important for you to connect to the audience so they pay attention and understand your message. Here are 9 strategies for engaging the audience:
1. Know the audience
If you know the audience and understand how they like to receive information, it's much easier for you to construct a presentation that makes sense to them. For example, you lead off with a problem statement and then provide a solution. Or, you go chronologically through the history of this project. If you speak “their language,” it will be easier to keep their attention.
2. Start strong
Don’t waste too much of your precious first few seconds thanking everyone and making comments about the weather or logistic announcements. Capture the audience’s attention by launching right into your content with a startling statistic, provocative question, relevant story or bold statement of your message.
3. Use real examples
Use real examples whenever possible, because that helps your audience see and understand what you’re talking about. You can keep names confidential if necessary; for example, “One of our clients who works for a pharmaceutical company said they loved our product because…”
4. Be descriptive, not bland
Use evocative language and vivid imagery. Choose expressive words that paint a picture in the minds of your audience.
5. Vary your body language
Don’t speak in a monotone or stand stiffly and stare at the floor. Use natural gestures and make eye contact with different people in the audience. Vary your voice and facial expressions to give meaning to your words.
6. Stay on topic
Don’t allow questions to lead you off on a tangent. Take the question off-line if you can’t answer it quickly or it’s not on topic or interesting to the rest of the audience.
7. Use pauses wisely
You want to keep the flow of the presentation moving, but you don’t want to speak so quickly that people can’t keep up with you. Use pauses to give the audience a chance to absorb what you’ve said, to give yourself time to think of what to say next instead of “um” and “ah” and for dramatic effect.
8. Ask real questions
Asking questions of the audience can be a straightforward way for you to engage people. If you do ask questions, be clear when they are real questions that you’d like answers to and give people a chance to think about their answers. And don’t promise audience involvement if you have no intention of following through on that promise.
9. End strong
Don’t just end with “No questions? OK, uh, thanks, I guess we’re done…” Even if you take questions, make sure you’ve prepared a conclusion for after the questions. End with a powerful restatement of your message, a rhetorical question to the audience or a motivational declaration.
Following these 9 strategies will help you capture and keep the audience’s attention throughout your presentation so they understand and remember your message.
Gilda Bonanno is a speaker, trainer and coach who helps people from all walks of life improve their communication and presentation skills.
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