3 Simple Presentation Techniques to Engage Your Audience

I recently had the opportunity to watch Jamie Gutfreund, Global CMO at Wunderman, present. Needless to say, she’s incredible. As someone blessed with a short attention span (#millennials), I can tell you that I was completely captivated the ENTIRE TIME… so I know she crushed it.

Afterward, I was lucky to be able to pull her aside and get the scoop. She attributes her mad skills to “Own the Room” training, which taught her how to lower filters (cell phones and other distractions) and engage audiences of all sizes with simple techniques.

I took the course and thought I’d share a few techniques that you can apply today. That said, I still recommend taking a public speaking course because practicing is crucial to a flawless delivery.

Engagement Technique #1: Around the Room

Tactic: Ask each individual within a smaller group to answer a question or provide an example to the rest of the room.

When you’re presenting, set up your tables so that people sit in smaller groups. When it makes sense, let your group of choice know that you’re going to ask them for input about a topic. The group will be heavily invested in what you are about to say next because they don’t want to embarrass themselves in front of the audience. Deliver your content and then ask the group for input. You can even say that you might ask another group to share their feedback, which means everyone else will stay engaged as well.

As each person shares, they reveal critical insights that you can use to guide your presentation (e.g. how familiar the audience is with the topic), and you get to take a break because the audience is doing the work. The most crucial component of all, however, is that the group is engaging with your content in a way that’s personal to them.

Why is it helpful?

  1. The presenter gets data from a random sample.
  2. The small group has to focus and engage with the content on an emotional level.
  3. The presenter gets to divert the attention to others in order to take a breath or review notes.

Worried that it won’t go smoothly? Set expectations up front by letting your audience know exactly what will happen, including who will share first and how long or short the answer should be. It’s also important to add that there is no wrong or right answer so your audience feels comfortable sharing. Then, take a minute to introduce the topic with the rest of the group. When you’re ready, simply ask the individual kicking it off to start and continue on to each person in the group.

Pro Tip: If you get nervous during presentations, divert everyone’s attention to a member of the audience by shining a positive light on that individual. For example, if you’ve ever given a toast at a wedding, you know how nerve-racking it can be to speak to a room of friends and loved ones. Give yourself a break right off the bat by congratulating the parents of the bride or groom. In that moment, everyone looks at the parents and claps. Now you have a moment to take a breath and own your toast.

Engagement Technique #2: Body Poll

Tactic: Ask the audience a question and provide them with a range for answering.

Some presenters make the mistake of asking a larger audience a question that doesn’t provoke much thought. Here’s what I mean: “Raise your hand if you’ve traveled outside of the country.” This is great for the presenter because they get instant feedback (i.e. lots of raised hands), but it’s bad for the audience because they didn’t have to think much about their answer—so it’s not very engaging.

Here’s how you can level up the engagement: “Show me with your fingers how many countries you’ve traveled to outside of the country. Zero being you haven’t traveled outside of the country, 10 being you’ve traveled to 10 countries or more.” Now, the audience has to think about how many countries they’ve been to and share that number with everyone else in the room. Also, clearly explaining the range leaves no room for discrepancy so no one will be worried that they’re answering incorrectly.

Why is it helpful?

  1. It’s quick.
  2. The presenter gets data from everyone in the room.
  3. The entire audience is engaged.

Worried people won’t engage with the question? Usually, a small portion of the room will engage with you right off the bat. To make sure everyone participates, repeat the directions twice (especially if it’s a larger group) and with a smile. Once the majority of the audience is participating, the reluctant folks will join in as well thanks to peer pressure. Again, what’s crucial here is that everyone is thinking about the content you are discussing in a personal way.

Pro Tip: Leveraging props helps people remember what you’re saying, so use them to make your presentation more visual and engaging. For example, when referencing “data,” you could point to your phone.

Engagement Technique #3: Pair Up

Tactic: Ask the audience to pick a partner to do an activity with.

Presenters often use the “pair up” technique when they want the audience to practice a technique being discussed. In sales trainings, for example, a presenter or instructor will often ask reps to pair up and pitch each other. Usually, one acts as the prospect and the other acts as the customer, then they switch.

Why is it helpful?

  1. This technique is very engaging for the audience.
  2. The audience takes over and owns the time/content.
  3. The presenter gets a break.

Worried people might go off topic? Create urgency by setting a time limit up front, which should be less than the amount of time you actually give them. For example, you can let the audience know they have less than a minute to go through the full exercise so they get right to it, but then give the group more time so everyone has a chance to participate. Now, your audience is engaging with other about the topic at hand. It creates another layer of engagement presenters can’t do on their own!

Pro Tip: Give audience members a cue. It can be hard to bring back the audience once everyone has started engaging in a “pair up.” To get everyone’s attention, let the room know that you’ll raise your hand when you want everyone to wrap up and direct their attention to the front. To get help, ask someone in the audience to keep an eye out for your raised hand and do the same when they notice you’ve done so. This way, people are involved and you’re not the only one left to wrangle a group.

A lot of successful people don’t present well–how many times have you been bored listening to someone more senior than you present? Perception is reality, and to take your career to the next level, it takes practice. You have to invest time recording yourself, watching yourself speak in front of a mirror, and slowly implementing small changes over time to get better.

After reading this blog, I hope you walk away with a few useful techniques to engage your audience! But like I mentioned earlier, I’d still suggest you check out a public speaking class, like Own The Room, because practice makes perfect. It’s really hard on your own, so if you’re interested,**** check out**** course offerings in your area!