Eight Ways to Get Your Audience Involved

By Heather Baldwin

Research has shown that one of the most powerful ways to persuade an audience is to involve them in your presentation. Yet fewer than half of all presenters plan ways to get their audience to participate (see sidebar). Their reasons vary from not having enough time to plan a participation strategy to being nervous about the unpredictable nature of letting members of the audience talk. But the bottom line is more than half of all presenters are missing out on one of the key components of moving a prospect towards a “yes.” If you think you need help getting your audience involved, try these eight easy tips from Karen Susman, an international speaker who coaches business people on presentation and networking skills:

1. Show of hands. This is a great technique if you’re speaking to a group of 10 or more. It not only gets audience members to participate, it can give you some valuable information. You might say, “By a show of hands, who here manages 10 people or more?”

2. Ask questions everyone can answer. No one likes to look foolish so if you ask a tough question, your audience may refrain from answering for fear of being wrong. So plan questions everyone can answer. Typically, these are audience-centered questions such as, “What are your greatest distribution challenges?” Or, “What characteristics of an office supply vendor are most important to you?” There’s no right or wrong answer – the point is to get people to participate and to learn from their answers.

3. Ask for a guess about something relevant to your topic. If you’re giving a presentation about how to organize an office, you might ask a group to guess what percent of emails are printed out and saved, thus adding to the paper clutter. Audience members will be more likely to remember the answer because they invested some thought in it first.

4. Write it down. Ask a question and have participants write down their responses. Or provide a handout with questions that require written answers. Susman says she encourages financial advisors to use this technique because it not only provides valuable information about a client; it often gets the advisor thinking about questions he may not have previously considered. For instance, “What is his risk level? When does he want to retire?” “There’s something very powerful about writing something down versus just thinking about the answer, or even typing it,” says Susman. “It’s a physical involvement.”

5. Fill in the blanks. Another way to use handouts and involve the audience in writing down answers is to provide a handout about your presentation with key information missing. For instance, a line might read: “Our online meeting technology can reduce your travel costs by $________, or ____percent of your travel budget.” The audience will listen so they can fill in the blanks. Just be careful you don’t overdo it, Susman cautions.

6. Develop an action plan handout. At the end of your presentation, or following each of your major points, have the audience write down actions they will take relevant to your topic. For instance, say you are a corporate image consultant. After you speak about corporate appearance, you could have everyone write down three things they will do to improve their professional look. If you’re a personal financial planner speaking to an audience about credit card debt, ask audience members to write down the actions they will take to reduce their credit card balances.

7. Use three-by-five-inch cards. Ask audience members to answer a question on a three-by-five-inch card. Collect the cards and transcribe answers to a flip chart for general discussion. You not only get answers that can help you guide the sale, but there’s a degree of anonymity here that encourages participation.

8. Ask rhetorical questions. These questions aim to get audience members to reflect and imagine a situation. For instance, “Ask yourself, what could your reps do if they had 10 more hours each week to sell?”

For more ideas or to reach Susman, visit www.karensusman.com.