Presentation Principle: Keeping an audience engaged throughout the presentation is one key to success.

I recently wrote about handling the Q&A portion of the presentation, but did not cover this important facilitation move for audience engagement.

Here’s the set-up:

As an audience member, I get frustrated when I’m attending a presentation and someone seated closer to the front asks or answers a question and I can’t hear it. Even more frustrating is when the presenter responds to that audience member without repeating the comment or question and since the audience member doesn’t have a microphone, I have no idea what’s going on. It’s as if presenter and audience member are suddenly having a private conversation. I consider this my invitation to tune out.

As a presenter, I want to pay attention to all of my audience members and will go to great lengths not to frustrate them. Seems rather obvious, wouldn’t you say?

What to do:

Line drawing of a presenter and audience members raising hands - facilitation move

Image credit: Matt Cornock via Flickr

When YOU are the presenter and an audience member asks a question or makes a comment, the best case scenario is to have that person be heard by everyone in the room and NOT to have to repeat it yourself. Repeating the question or comment wastes precious time AND you must be able to repeat it verbatim, or be able to utter a reasonable approximation instantly. This is no easy task from the stage!

Best case: Have a co-facilicator or helper walk around with a hand held microphone so that each audience member’s questions or comments can be heard by all.

Acceptable: If the room is small enough so that a microphone isn’t necessary, ask the audience member to repeat the question or comment so that everyone can hear. “Would you mind repeating that? I’d like everyone to be able to hear your comment.”

Not preferred: Repeat or paraphrase the audience member’s question or comment.

Here’s the facilitation move:

When an audience member answers a question or shares a thought, he or she will invariably look at you and talk as if the conversation is only between the two of you. But, YOU are a presenter, and whether you have an audience of 17 or 75, you owe it to them to pay attention to all of them.

Regardless of whether that person has a microphone or is repeating his or her question/comment as you have asked them to do, listen intently, of course, but as that person is talking, slowly move away from him or her. That’s right, I said move away. (Now, of course if it is someone from the back of the room, this move will not be necessary.) Maintain eye contact but slowly distance yourself such that the person has to talk across as many other participants as possible. Don’t worry – the person speaking will turn and maintain eye contact with you as you are moving. And, while that person is speaking and turning toward more of the audience, more of them will be looking at the speaker because he or she is now facing many of them!

In this way, it will feel more as if the audience member is talking to everyone, and not just you, the presenter. If you’re on a stage, you may move to one side or the other if you’re unable to move out into the audience. The object is to put as many audience members between you and the person speaking as possible.

That’s it, and it’s that simple. In this day and age, when virtually every audience member will have on their person an electronic device that can readily steal away their attention the instant you lose it, every facilitation move counts.

One caveat:

Be safe! This audience engagement move has you looking in one direction and walking in another. You may be walking sideways or backwards. Know the room! Know where the furniture is placed, and be familiar with where carpets start and end, and where wires and cables may be taped to the floor.