Very few of us like or appreciate our opinions being discounted. Even fewer of us like being talked to in a one-sided monologue.
You can’t have it both ways: either you’re engaging the audience or you’re not.
There is no ‘neutral’: when you’re not engaging them, you are disengaging them, and a disengaged audience is not in a place to truly hear your message. In that case a good chunk (if not all) of your message has nowhere to land.
The less engaged your audience is (and therefore, the less receptive they are to your message) the more your presentation is a waste of time (yours and theirs), the more boring it is, and the more likely your audience’s attention is likely to wander away from you and your message.
When you don’t engage the audience:
- you are doing a one-directional monologue: as we said before, very few people appreciate being talked ‘to’ or ignored for any length of time
- you miss out on enriching your presentation (and learning a thing or two): when you are in ‘monologue’ mode, you miss out on the (possibly more informed) opinions of those in your audience.
- you miss out on conversation and connection: either you’re having a monologue or you’re not; either you engage someone in conversation or you don’t, and either you’re interested in their opinion or you’re not.
- you are not respecting the audience, their opinions and their knowledge: assuming that you know more than ‘them’ isn’t very smart. Even if you are the expert in a particular area, your audience bring their wisdom about and experience of life with them. Ignoring all that isn’t very smart, and it’s not very respectful either.
An engaged mind is an enquiring mind, and an enquiring (interested) mind is the mind most conducive to paying attention and learning. Out of all the states that your audience can be in, this is by far the most preferred, as it lifts the energy (or ‘vibe’) in the room, which makes it more energising and interesting for them – and for you.
Engaging the audience also means that the spotlight isn’t on you all the time. It means that you don’t have to memorise word for word every part of your presentation, and that you have an engaging two-way conversation with them instead. Much more fun for everyone concerned!
The simple way to engage your audience is to frequently ask them what they think. For example, instead of ‘telling’ them what the 3 most common causes are of stress, or what the 3 biggest problems is that teachers face day to day, or why obesity is a problem, why we really need to find alternatives to plastic – or whatever your topic is – why not take the risk and ask them what they think first.
Even if they come up with other points to yours, you’ve now engaged them in conversation, which, as we’ve seen before, makes it a much more interactive and interesting experience for all present.
Another way to engage the audience is to get them to answer (your) questions throughout your presentation. Ask them review questions of the content you’ve already covered, and ask them what they think this means, or that, or what it means to them. Keep engaging with them, keep having the ‘conversation’, keep it interesting, keep the energy up, keep it fun.
A third way to engage the audience is to get participants to engage with each other. Periodically ask participants to form small groups to review (discuss among themselves) the content that you’ve presented thus far. In that way, not only does everyone get some ‘airtime’ to speak (which engages the brain, raises oxygen levels and energy and affirms that what they have to say is important), at the same time you get them to review the content, and research shows us that work that is reviewed is better and longer remembered. Win/win all round.
Engaging the audience is truly the most important thing you can bring to your presentations. Without it, well, you do the math(s).