There’s a time to deliver a well-crafted, well-rehearsed speech. Most business presentations are not that time.
Not that we skip the crafting and rehearsing. We’re generally better off, though, in a conference room, board room or online meeting, to skip the speechifying and have a conversation with our audience.
- Business presentations almost always benefit when others contribute their thoughts and feelings. Why not take advantage of all the expertise in the room?
- Opening the floor to others creates a sense of inclusion.
- It fosters mutual respect, and as important, mutual responsibility.
- People stay more engaged when they’re actively participating in an event than when they’re sitting passively in rows listening (or sometimes not listening).
- And, to be excruciatingly practical, there’s this. When they know you might call on them next, they’re unlikely to be on their phone checking Instagram.
Engagement and interactivity are big buzzwords in the world of professional speaking. And they’re just as important for people who speak in a board room instead of on a stage.
That’s why I was so happy to see this post promoting my program for North Shore Executive Networking Group: “This meeting is extremely interactive with a lot of perspectives and ideas being shared between Catherine and all the attendees.”
Extreme interactivity! I love that.
And I know not everyone is as comfortable with the back-and-forth as I am. Let’s face it, sometimes when you open the floor, things can go south. So, here are some of the suggestions I give my clients for audience interaction.
- Give explicit direction. You want them to ask a question or share an experience. Turn to the person next to them and introduce themselves. Form a group of three and discuss an issue. Whatever it is, tell them exactly what to do and how much time they have to do it. (Sadly, people are rarely hanging on every word we say—you need to be clear and precise about what you’re asking for, if you expect to get it.)
- A good way to bring attention back to you is to stand firm and grounded, center-stage, and raise one hand high. People will follow suit and the room will fall silent. (Think back to your Girl Scout leader or camp counselor doing the same thing.) Trying to outshout the racket and tell people to quiet down is exhausting and ineffective.
- When someone asks a question, listen. Resist the temptation to jump in before they’re finished. You may need to clarify what they want to know. And if there are more than 15, 20 people in the room you’ll probably want to repeat their question to make sure everyone hears it.
- If you get a “question” that’s really push-back or negativity, respond quickly and politely, and move on. It’s rarely to your advantage to get into a spitting-match with someone in your audience. Even when they try to push your buttons, stay cool.
- Refuse to be derailed. Here’s how: https://catherinejohns.com/speaking-snafus/
- Keep track of the time. Even when they’re having fun and learning a lot, audiences expect your talk to end on time. And they blame you if it doesn’t.
- Never let go of the mic. Think of Oprah, wading out into her TV audience to take comments. People will reach for the mic—like Oprah, you’ll just hang onto it anyway. The person who controls the mic controls the show—that person is you.
- Save a nugget for the end. My preference is to intersperse Q-and-A throughout a talk…I think it keeps the whole program moving and interesting. Many speakers would rather finish their content and then invite questions. That’s fine too.
In either case, plan what you’ll say to close. The other day, I heard a speaker share some terrific information. She answered a question, asked for another one, and when there was silence, she said, “Well, okay then, um, thanks for being here.”
The things people will most remember are your opening and closing. Don’t waste that memorable spot on “I guess that’s it.”
Close the Q-and-A cleanly. Then restate your main point, give people something to think about, or issue a call to action…you’ll want to end on a high note.
The more interactive your presentation is, the more your audience will stay energized and engaged. Of course, interactivity is good in writing, too. Post a comment below to share your experience.
I’m such a fan of interactivity, it was part of our wedding! Frank and I said our vows and then invited our family and friends to share their observation, experience or advice about marriage. You might guess, they shared a few amusing observations about us in the process.
We just celebrated our 28th anniversary. It’s probably not surprising that our long-ago guests are still talking about the audience participation.