What Not To Do / Presentation Skills  / #WNTD Engaging With Your Audience
engaging an audience Kevin J Reid

#WNTD Engaging With Your Audience

First Impressions

Whether you are making a virtual presentation or beginning to present to a room containing 500 people. The first thing you say is the first thing that your audience will remember, so make it memorable.

I would suggest that you do not begin your presentation with; “Hello, my name is….” While polite and well-intentioned, this opening statement will not capture the imagination and attention of your audience.

If you want to engage your audience, it is better instead to use an impactful opening. Your intention should be to gain the attention of your audience from the beginning of your presentation.


The Grab Opening

The obvious question, is what is appropriate to my presentation to use as a grab opening?

There are several alternatives for you to consider:

  1. Ask your audience a question. e.g. ‘would you like to be debt-free?’
  2. Remark on a local event. E.g. I see our football team beat your football team at the weekend?
  3. An unanticipated statement e.g. Scream and shout at your audience!!
  4. A statement that arouses curiosity. E.g. have you ever wondered why we never close tier-1 accounts?
  5. An anecdote. E.g. I remember back when I….

Of the five grabber presentation openings above, I would suggest that you use an anecdotal story as your grab opening. The reason being is that you can tell the anecdote in such a way that it fits the theme of your presentation.

As this is the first thing you are telling your audience, it is the first thing that they will remember.

And when closing out your presentation, just prior to making your call to action, conclude by repeating the main elements of your opening anecdotal story. Remember that a strong ‘grab’ opening (aligned to your presentation) will give you a strong ‘grab’ close.

The last thing you say, is the first thing that they will remember.


Interact With Your Audience

Without audience interaction, your presentation quickly falls flat , your messages are diluted your audience is bored their concentration quickly goes elsewhere.

As every presentation audience is different and with a different set of values, careful preparation on your part is required. The same audience on two separate days could possess a different outlook, but how can you ascertain out their outlook?

The answer is to question your audience from the beginning and throughout your presentation as to their held values to build up a picture of their held knowledge.

It doesn’t matter if you’re presenting virtually or in a room full of people, audience interaction is not about having a technical or colourful presentation or video. The most important visual aid in the room is YOU. It is you that drives and maintains the energy in the room. The room is watching and they are watching YOU.

Effective audience interaction is not being afraid to aim for a deeper engagement to make your presentation more interesting. You can interact with your audience by:

  • telling stories
  • polling the audience
  • holding quick round quizzes
  • asking them what they have learnt

Challenge your audience to think and encourage their participation and expect to be challenged in response.

An audience that challenges you by asking questions is an audience that is engaged and curious.

Furthermore, an audience that challenges you by asking questions and reflecting back your exact words is an audience that is deeply engaged.

When an Audience Disconnects

When you have been presenting for a few minutes your audience will slip into sort of mini-trance, whereby they are relaxed, sitting still, focussed on you and oblivious to other external interruptions.

So when the train of thought of an individual audience member or even the entire audience is interrupted by something on the screen or by something you have said, then there is a break in the individual and collective trance and a ‘disconnect’ has occurred.

The disconnect is immediately apparent as it will manifest itself by physical movement and is easily spotted by you, even if the room is full of people or you are on a video call with numerous participants e.g. shifting to make themselves more comfortable in their seat, folding or unfolding of their arms, reengaging you in eye contact or even a subtle facial movement.

Remember that your audience has been in a trance-like state up until the point when the disconnect occurred.

As the presenter you will be focused on audience reaction and as the human eye is attracted to movement, you can detect these disconnects easily enough.

Once you have detected a physical disconnect, then you can decide to continue your presentation, pause, ask the person who disconnected if they have a question or even ask a question of the audience as a whole.

Being able to interact with your audience on this level is extremely powerful for getting your message across and building your personal credibility.

The Power of the Pause

If during your presentation, you feel your audience are starting to lose interest and that their attention is wandering, you can raise your voice to re-engage them, however this rarely works and may cause offence.

To cause no offence and re-engage your audience, a more powerful tool is to insert a silent pause into your presentation, and it is really easy to do. While speaking, and in mid-sentence, abruptly pause and stay silent.

For those of members of the audience whose attention has wandered elsewhere, the speed of sound entering their ears comes into effect telling them that something is different in their immediate surroundings.

As sound travels at 1,225 km/h, it enters the ear nearest to the presenter first and the other ear a fraction of a second later. This timing is enough to cause an imbalance in hearing causing the person to turn to whatever is causing this imbalance.

Now that your entire audience has turned to look at you and give you their attention and you can continue with your presentation.

Use the power of the pause as follows:

  • Pause to bring your audience with you.
  • Pause to allow your audience to process data.
  • Pause for dramatic effect prior to making a key point.


While understanding the old adage that ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ for conveying complex messages, The most important visual aid in any presentation will always be YOU.

Whether you are presenting virtually or physically in the room, it is YOU that commands the flow of information through your presentation.

It is up to you to make an assertive first impression, you can also use a grab opening to deepen your connection with your audience. During your presentation continue your engagement by telling stories, polling your audience and quick round quizzes. Watch out for audience disconnects and use humour as much as possible, but only where appropriate and most importantly of all use the power of the pause to lead, challenge, re-engage and encourage your audience.

Top Tip

Most people are wary of using humor within their presentation, as they feel humor has no place in a professional setting.

However, once the humor is appropriate to the subject and at the value levels of your audience, then it has a vital role to play as, happy people are more likely to remember the content of your presentation.

There are six proven steps to telling a joke:

  1. Make the joke relevant to the presentation, particularly in a business presentation.
  2. The longer the joke the bigger the risk of it falling flat.
  3. Do not use any unnecessary words – keep it simple.
  4. The punch line has to be the last thing you say.
  5. After the punch line, trigger your audience to laugh by pausing orally and smiling facially.
  6. Timing – don’t talk while the audience is laughing. Milk the humour in silence.

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