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Your Guide to Giving Engaging Presentations

There’s nothing worse than giving a presentation where the audience is completely disengaged.  Now, your instinct may be to blame it on the audience members.  After all, how rude is it for them not to give you their full and total attention?  Well, the reality is it’s a shared responsibility.  While they should be giving you their attention, you should present in a way that is engaging and encourages participation.   Here are 20 quick ideas that when used appropriately will lead to fantastic audience engagement.  

1.  Show of hands:  Pose a question and ask the audience to respond with a show of hands.  “Show of hands…who here has ever eaten at McDonalds?”  Super simple way to get people engaged.  Something like this is a great way to get started as you’re not asking too much from the audience.

2.  Group exercises:  Instead of just talking at the group, why not take a couple minutes for small groups to discuss the topic or give them a small task to complete.  Then, have them present their findings back to the larger group.   

3.  Inclusive framing of questions:  Ask questions to the audience that most people would be able to answer. “Tell me about a good meal you’ve recently had.”  This makes it easy for people to get involved. 

4.  Allow time for a response:  Too often, we ask questions of the audience and don’t give them enough time to come up with an answer.  Be patient and allow time for a response… it’s o.k. if there are a few seconds of silence. 

5.  Acknowledge contributions:  When audience members engage, remember to thank them for the question or contribution.  It’s important to “reward” the desired behaviour. 

6.  Ask follow-up questions:  You’ve asked a question, and someone in the audience has given an answer. Great!  Show genuine interest by asking a relevant follow up question.  This helps to make the presentation feel more like a 2-way conversation… which is what you want.

7.  Facilitate a conversation:  A participant has asked a question or has responded to your question.  Instead of giving your opinion, try asking if anyone in the audience would like to comment about the issue. 

8.  Listen:  No, REALLY listen.  Listen carefully to the questions and comments.  Truly try to understand your audience. 

9.  Know who is in the room:  If you have access to the participant list, maybe have a quick look at their Linked-in profiles to get to know a bit more about the audience.  You can then use this knowledge to tailor the presentation, making it more interesting and relevant for them.

10.  Soft breaks every 10 minutes: According to biologist John Medina, given a presentation of moderately interesting content your audiences attention will drop to zero in 10 minutes.  Create soft breaks in the form of showing videos, conducting polls or anything else to break up the monotony of the presentation. 

11.  Tell stories:  Stories challenge our intellect, stimulate our imagination and touch our emotions. In other words, they are engaging.  Instead of showing a chart or a graph, try telling a story that makes the same point.

12.  Ice breakers:  Use an icebreaker at the start of a presentation to help set the tone.  Whether it’s as simple as getting people to introduce themselves, playing a short game or telling a joke, it’s important to do something to “break the ice”.

13.  Videos:  With more than 80 million videos on YouTube, there is a video for just about any situation.  Strategically placed videos help to improve audience engagement. 

14.  Poll the audience:  The simplest way to do this is to ask the audience for a show of hands.  If you want to get fancy, there are many apps available to enable real-time polling of the audience.

15.  Props:  If you’re giving a presentation about bones, maybe bring a bone on stage.  If you’re talking about the shoe market, maybe a few different styles of shoes.  Props help to bring ideas to life.

16.  Present in pairs: Double acts are a great way to break up the monotony of a presentation. 

17.  Fireside chat:  Instead of a typical stand-up presentation, try sitting with the audience and talking about the topic.  Create a structured conversation as opposed to a presentation of information.  This approach is typically more effective with smaller groups.

18.  Pecha Kucha: This is a style of presentation originating in Japan which includes 20 slides, with each slide being show for 20 seconds.  Typically, the slides are image based.  This keeps presentations to a total of 6 minutes and 40 seconds, ensuring it’s fast-paced and concise.

19.  Speed networking:  This can work great as an icebreaker or as nice way to break up a presentation.  Have the audience get up and quickly make 3 new contacts. Once everyone has met 3 new people, you can continue with the presentation. 

20.  Write down burning questions:  Before you start the presentation, have the audience write down 3 burning questions they would like to have answered through the presentation.  This will tune them into the presentation as they seek to find the answers to their questions.  

21.  Passion & enthusiasm:  Always bring good energy.  If you’re not excited or interested in the topic then you can’t expect the audience to be either. 

There are plenty of ways to keep an audience truly engage.  The key is to take the time to develop a plan for doing so.  It’s an important part of any quality presentation and should be treated as such during preparation.  

For more useful tips and tools visit our On-line Resource Library. 

We also provide 1-day workshops on presentation skills for researchers and scientists.  Click HERE to learn more.  


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