You are an expert in your subject matter. You have the courage to stand up to speak. You are charming and have a great stage presence.
It’s not enough!
But if you know how to engage your audience, you’ll be a rock star on stage!
Why? Because when presenters just talk – people zone out. Because when you engage your audience, they will connect with you and your content at a very different level – it becomes about them and you create an experience for them. No longer is your content abstract information, but it transforms into actionable change.
There is an ancient quote that is my mantra for creating any speech or workshop to remind myself to engage my audience: “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I know.”
Studies have shown that your audience can only absorb information up to about 15 minutes, after that their mind starts wandering off. That’s your cue… never have content blocks longer than 15 minutes in your presentation or workshop before shifting into engagement pieces.
So, how do you create engagement?
The secret to effectively creating engagement lies in keeping it simple. Don’t get intimidated by the thought of having to come up with complex, life-altering experiences. I remember when I started out, I was creating complicated exercises that were complex in setup and execution. It was a lot of work (and to be honest, didn’t work any better than the simple strategies I use today).
Here are some simple engagement strategies I teach my Profit From Speaking Mastery Course:
- Ask a question with show of hands
Try to ask the questions to enroll everyone in the audience. Let me give you an example “Raise your hand if you had breakfast this morning. And how many of you didn’t have breakfast this morning?” This second question will get the other half of the audience raise their hand
- Stand up
Stand up exercises are great because they get your audience moving. Get members of your audience to stand up based on certain statements or questions. For example, you could divide your room into 4 corners – purple, green, orange and yellow. Let’s say I am running a workshop in my hometown of Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada and I have participants from different areas “Go to the purple corner if you are from Kelowna or other parts of British Columbia (our province); go to the green corner if you are from other area of Canada (our country); go to the orange corner if you are from the US (our neighboring country); go to the yellow corner if you are from any other country in the world.” Again, this exercise would engage 100% of the audience. If you wanted to step it up a bit from there, get some people from each group to call our their cities and have fun with the “other countries group” where you can have people guess who has traveled the furthest (afterwards you can reverse that with the participants who are there from the home town – who had the shortest distance to travel?)
- Share with a partner
I really like partner share exercises because they are so great for scaling. Many exercises are dependent on the size of the audience you’re working with, but partner shares are easy to do in a small or large group. Be clear in the setup of the exercise – for example how much time each partner has to share and how you will let them know when it’s time to switch/end.
- Group discussion
Group discussions are very versatile – you can break your audience into large or small groups. This type of exercise is very powerful because it allows your audience to form connections with other members of the audience. For example, if you are running a longer event, you can bring them together into the same groups repeatedly or you can get them to split into new, different groups. Once in a group, your audience will be guided by you through discussions and other exercises. Again, just like with the partner share exercises, be sure to be clear in the setup in the beginning. Once your audience is in a group, their attention shifts from you to them and clear instructions will help you with the success of the exercise.
- Create an exercise (simple is better)
When I started out speaking, I had this big expectation of exercises… I had a great thick book of complicated exercises. There are countless exercise ideas you can find with a quick Google search and many of them can create a powerful experience for your audience. The challenge is, many of them require a complex setup. I used to run a team building exercise called the “Egg Drop” – where participants needed to be in smaller groups and package a raw egg so it wouldn’t break when it was dropped from a high place. We always had much fun with this, but it was labor intensive in the setup (I needed to bring lots of different options for packaging material) and of course there was the matter of the raw eggs which didn’t always fall unharmed.
Over the years I have learned that simple is better. For example, you could have the audience make a list of 5 things they avoid doing (but should), write them on a piece of paper, then choose 1 they commit to doing. After they made this commitment to themselves, have them find 10 other people in audience and tell them about their commitment.
- Debrief the engagement exercise – this is where the magic happens!!
The debrief of an exercise is as important as the exercise itself. The exercise itself will have your audience engaged and participating, the debrief with allow them to unpack their emotions around the exercise… how it makes them feel, what they struggled with, what they were proud of.
Let your exercises become experiences!
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