Video has already replaced the radio star. In the era of YouTube, Udemy courses, and live streaming, it may seem it’s set out to do the same with live presenting.
But there’s one thing video can never beat: Personal interaction.
Making a connection with your audience is a skill that needs to be honed and perfected to hit the mark with your presentation.
Based on my own experience from the stage, and from observing other speakers at industry-leading conferences, I’ve collected these 9 interaction tips for delivering a presentation that your audience won’t forget.
1. Greet your audience in the local language
As a speaker, you often find yourself addressing an international audience, whether it is at a big conference, or an internal company meeting joined by remote teams.
Greeting international participants in their local language gives a nice personal touch to the onset of your presentation. It helps you create a connection and the feeling of intimacy with the people sitting before you.
I always memorize how to say “Hello” and “How are you?” in the local language, and use them as soon as I come onstage.
You can even take it a step further and adjust your presentation ad hoc to the audience, by making local references.
For example, Google’s Digital Marketing Evangelist, Avinash Kaushik, started his talk at the Marketing festival by showing pictures from his tour around the hosting city of Brno, Czech Republic. Moreover, he used the Czech websites that the audience was closely familiar with, instead of international ones, to get his point across.
Customizing your talk is a sure way to win the hearts of your audience.
2. Start with an attention-grabbing opening
Delivering a presentation is pretty much like writing a book. You need to hook them in the first chapter and put them in the right context. Only that will make them turn page after page.
Here’s an inspiration for you: At the 2018 World Education Congress (WEC), we asked people to close their eyes and think of the presentation session that had recently impressed them. After 30 seconds, we invited them to share their dream session with their neighbours and describe it using one word. We then asked them to submit it to Slido to create a word cloud.
Next, we asked them to picture the usual experience of attending a presentation and describe it again, using a single word. Seeing the differences in the two consequent word cloud polls was very thought-provoking and sparked up a discussion among the attendees.
Such brisk exercises help keep your audience engaged and positively motivated.
3. Open a conversation with your audience
Once you win over your audience, keep the pace up by opening a dialogue with them. You don’t even have to wait until the questions come from the participants.
Turn this upside down; be the one to pose questions first.
When I talk on the topic of interactive presentations, I like to ask the audience: “Which interaction technique works best for you?” The main challenge with this exercise is to get the first answer.
To succeed, scan the audience and look for facial cues, whispers or shuffles to approach a person. Or, to be 100% sure that the conversation will get going, agree with a volunteer to share his or her comments before the talk.
By asking questions like these, I manage to use the knowledge of the crowd and engage the audience by changing the dynamic of the speech. As a bonus, I learn new things myself, which is amazing.
4. Go among the audience
Asking people questions may feel impersonal if you stand onstage. On top of that, large auditoriums often make it difficult to get intimate with your audience.
Draw inspiration from rock singers here. “Jump off the stage” and go among the audience to build a stronger bond with them.
This approach is invaluable if you hope to collect impromptu answers after you have asked your question. Move slowly around the room, and when someone shuffles or raises a hand, approach them with a mic and elicit an answer.
When another hand shoots up, move to that corner of the room, and so on. The point here is to be as close to your audience as possible.
Extra tip: Check the room in advance; if possible, a day or night prior to your speech. Walk around the room and between the stage and auditorium to get used to the space arrangements.
5. Give rewards for participation
Despite all your efforts, the audience might need a bit of a nudge.
Giving out small rewards can bring another interactive element to your presentation. You can go with the event merchandise or small treats, like chocolates and candy.
To give you another idea, at the Jam London conference, the organizers decided to give away books to the attendees who were the most active in asking questions via Slido. This really helped incentivize the audience to ask questions, and improved the dialogue in the room.
6. Get your audience to work together
You can give the audience engagement another spin by giving them an activity they can participate in.
For example, you can present a statement for the participants to discuss, or give them a task to solve in groups. Where appropriate, walk around the room, join the conversations, and encourage people to talk to each other.
At the Conventa Crossover conference in Slovenia, moderator Jan-Jaap In der Maur put people in small groups and asked them to share the technological trends that they believed will have the biggest impact on the industry in the near future.
Then he collected a few comments from the floor to open a discussion with the whole room.
Simple. Engaging. Useful.
If facilitated properly, activities like these can work equally well with an audience of 20 people as they can with 2,000.
Related story: 5 Essential Pieces of The Audience Engagement Puzzle
7. Use live polls to collect knowledge in the room
Whether you decide to ask your audience a question or give them a task to work on, live polling allows you to effectively collect your audience’s insights and showcase them on screen. This multiplies the learning element of your presentation.
In general, I follow the human attention span and use a poll every 7-10 minutes, which is 5-6 polls for a 60-minute talk, maximum.
This strategy allows me to break the long content deliveries into more digestible chunks, regain audience attention, and ignite conversations based on the results.
The last point is particularly important. Live polls make sense only when you facilitate their use. Make sure to always follow up on the results, share your thoughts on them, or get the audience to share why they voted the way they did.
Simple questions such as: “Do you find these results surprising? Why yes? Why no?” can do their magic.
8. Build in time for the Q&A
Even if you incorporate interactive elements to your presentation, your audience will surely have additional questions.
For that reason, don’t be scared to allocate as much as 10-20 minutes to the Q&A, depending on the length of your presentation slot.
After I finish my talk, instead of asking, “Are there any questions?” (which typically leads to silence), I like to ask, “What are your questions?”, or say, “Now, let’s get to your questions.” In case I don’t get an instant reaction from the audience, I get off the stage and walk among the audience to encourage the discussion.
In rare moments when no questions come up, I kick off the Q&A by saying: “What people usually ask me is…” and then give an answer. In 9/10 times, the discussion catches on.
9. Crowdsource questions for the Q&A
Lack of audience questions doesn’t necessarily mean that your audience doesn’t have questions. They may just be uncomfortable with speaking up in public.
Many conferences use Q&A tools like Slido for crowdsourcing questions and make them available for the speakers to use. In case they don’t, you can also incorporate it into your presentation independently.
Compared to passing the mic amongst the people in the audience, Q&A platforms allow you to truly give everyone an equal chance to ask their question, regardless of their level of shyness.
Again, Q&A tools work best when facilitated properly. I often say something like: “Take a minute and think about what you’ve just heard. Come up with a question that you have and submit it.” It works every single time.
Then just take a look at the screen, or a confidence monitor, and address the questions that have the most upvotes.
With these simple tips, you’ll be able to turn your presentation from a one-way content broadcast into an exciting conversation between you and your attendees. Try them at your next presentation and inspire your audience not only with your content but also by the interaction you create in the room.