This blog post is #5 of a series on “5 Steps to Fearless Speaking” which includes ConfidenceClarityAuthority, Authenticity, and Engagement. In #5, we list 8 easy engagement techniques for public speakers and 5 more that are challenging. We also compare engagement when in person versus online

The cool thing about engaging your audience is that it builds community and creates a memorable experience. So, what does engagement really mean?


Engagement means…drum roll please…Involvement & Participation

Yep! Pure and simple, engagement means getting your audience involved. It means having them participate from the simplest, yet effective, ways to more challenging ways. Participation and involvement is what creates interest and a meaningful experience. So, let’s dive right in!

Part 1: The Easy Engagement Techniques!

#1 EYE CONTACT

Eye Contact

Eye contact is one of the easiest and most effective ways to engage an audience in person. Without eye contact, the audience could become bewildered! Have you ever seen a speaker not make eye contact with the audience? I have. It creates a HUGE disconnect. With eye contact, you are establishing a connection with the audience and building trust. Eye contact does not mean that you stare at people. Be natural like you would in a conversation.

In-person vs. Virtual: Eye contact is essential when in-person. For a virtual event, it’s a bit more challenging. Just make sure you are looking into your camera most of the time.

#2 QUESTIONS

Ask Questions

Ask questions! Questions are the best because they engage our minds. Great questions begin with words like “why,” “how,” “what,” and “which.” Why? Because they usually begin an open ended question meaning they can’t be answered with a yes or a no.

When a question is asked, we are hardwired to think of a response and instinctively want to find or at least know the answer. You can ask questions that you answer or the audience actively answers. Either way, with effective pausing and proper placement, questions are a powerful tool for public speakers.

In-person vs. Virtual: Questions are essential for both in person and virtual presentations.

#3 GESTURES

Gestures

Gestures/body language can tune in your audience or turn them off. Walking back and forth nervously is an obvious distraction. But, having good posture and intentional movement can convey credibility and confidence which are appealing and, at the same time, engaging. Stand confident and use gestures that feel natural to you.

What to avoid: putting your hands in your pockets, being robotic in your movements (unless demonstrating a dance move!), or touching your face, hair, beard, whatever if at all possible. If you do, just keep working on improving to the point where you don’t do those things.

In-person vs. Virtual: Gestures and body language are both essential when in person but depends somewhat when online. When you are sitting down for a virtual event, it’s important to be sitting up straight and leaning in. When standing for a virtual presentation, gestures and body language are both essential.

#4 AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION

Audience Participation

Ask the audience to participate like raising their hands, standing up/stretching, writng something down, saying a word or a phrase, answerng a question, sharing with the person next to them, dancing, singing, etc. Remember your presentation is All. About. The. Audience. So, get them involved/engaged by asking them to do things.

In-person vs. Virtual: Important for both and even more so for virtual events. With virtual events, use as many features as possible like the chat, polls, and all the emojis (giving a thumbs up, raising hand, clapping, etc.).

#5 PRIZES

Prizes

Have one or more prizes. This is super easy to do and people love winning stuff. Always have some sort of give away and a way for people to enter the contest. It could be something taped under their chair or they could be selected based on their participation. Lots of ways to do this. Prizes can be your services, your book or someone else’s, a gift card, a plant. Use your imagination.

In-person vs. Virtual: Important for both and even more so for virtual events. For virtual events, you’ll need their email or mailing address to send the prize to the winner.

#6 ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Acknowledgement

Calling out someone’s name is always a surefire and easy way to get people involved. People love to hear the sound of their name. When you ask someone how to pronounce their name, it tells them that their name is important to you, a win/win. It engages the whole audience because everyone wants to see if maybe their own name will be called out.

In-person vs. Virtual: Important for both and even more so for virtual events. With virtual events, acknowledging people in the chat is music to their ears. Doing so frequently will increase engagement because everyone wants to be recognized.

#7 HANDOUTS

Handouts

Handouts are incredibly useful to get your audience involved and engaged. Handouts should be informative and have space for taking notes. You can email a link to the handout(s) prior to the event and have them at the event. Handouts also give you the opportunity to share your contact information.

In-person vs. Virtual: Emailing your handout whether for an in-person or virtual event has benefits for you and the attendees. If they can’t attend, they will have your valuable information. In both cases, you’ll want to provide them with a way to download the handout at the event and online. For in-person, you’ll want to have copies of the handout as well.

#8 Q&A

Q&A

Q&A sessions are one of the easiest and most powerful engagement techniques for public speakers. A Q&A session is literally led by the attendees. You should allow for Q&A at the end of your talk to give your audience the opportunity to get all their questions answered. Q&A sessions are also a great opportunity for you to ask questions about what value people received.  

In-person vs. Virtual: Important for both and even more so for virtual events. With virtual events, it’s best to have people post their questions in the chat.

Part 2: The Challenging Engagement Techniques!

#1 STORIES

Stories

Tell stories and anecdotes. One of the most effective ways to engage your audience is through storytelling. A story can captivate the audience's attention, evoke emotions, and make the message more relatable. Stories should be used to take the audience on an emotional journey whether it’s happy, sad, or funny. It is essential to make the story personal and relevant to the topic, which helps the audience relate to you. You should help the audience understand how the story relates to your point. Stories and anecdotes should always be succinct and not drawn out where you are going down a “rabbit trail” and getting sidetracked.

However, Steve Jobs effectively uses stories as his 3 main points in his commencement speech to the graduating class of Stanford University. Worth a watch (or read as the post includes his prepared speech).

In-person vs. Virtual: Stories are important for both and even more challenging for virtual events. With virtual events, anecdotes are best because they are shorter as audiences have shorter attention spans when online. 

#2 HUMOR

Humor

Using humor can be the most challenging engagement technique. Although it can help to lighten the mood and make the audience feel more comfortable, it is crucial to ensure that the humor is appropriate for the audience and the occasion. A well-timed joke or humorous anecdote can help to break the ice and establish a connection with the audience.  

In-person vs. Virtual: Important and tricky for both.

#3 VISUAL AIDS

Visual Aids

Visual aids such as flipcharts, tangible things like a book or prototype, and images can help to make the presentation more engaging and memorable. Be careful though to use visual aids sparingly. If you use slides when presenting live, whether in person or virtually, it’s better to just have images without any words or very few words. Don’t read slides ever. Reading slides is B.O.R.I.N.G. On the plus side, visual aids when used sparingly and in an interesting way, can help to illustrate complex ideas and make information memorable.

In-person vs. Virtual: Visual aids are a definite for both in person and virtual events. For virtual events, you might hold up a book or a ticket or something. Stay away from fake backgrounds unless you can make it look good. Otherwise, have a pleasing (uncluttered) background. Visual aids for a virtual event could include slides with images, an infographic, a video, a whiteboard, polls, and quizzes.

#4 HOT SEAT

Hot Seat

A hot seat is extremely engaging because you are asking an attendee to join you in the presentation. Hot seats are great for coaching for a real live situation which makes them very relatable and engaging.

In-person vs. Virtual: Hot seats are perfect for both in person and virtual events.

#5 SHARING

Partner Shares

Sharing with a partner or a group is a highly effective engagement technique. This technique creates an experience of community and connection. While it is a powerful engagement technique, it requires you to set clear expectations. Facilitation should include obtaining feedback from at least one of the partner shares or groups.

In-person vs. Virtual: Sharing with a partner is easier than sharing with a group when in-person because group sharing requires pre-arrangement of tables and/or rooms. For a virtual event, sharing in a group or with a partner can be done fairly easily with virtual breakout rooms.

Lastly, whether you are giving a presentation in person or virtually, clear and concise messaging is always critical for engagement. Since our attention span is shorter in a virtual setting, it’s even more important that your messaging is clear and concise and you are well prepared.

While this list of engagement techniques covers a good number of them, the list is only limited by your imagination. By using these techniques effectively, you can engage your audience and deliver impactful presentations. Let me know your thoughts below. What techniques do you use? Which new ones will you try?

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About the Author

Hi! I'm Pam. I teach entrepreneurs to be fearless & compelling speakers online and in person and how to easily promote and run their own online workshops, webinars, and online courses. 

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