Through a number of BMcTALKS blog posts, you are encouraged to get your audience members/students/learners engaged as soon as possible. I have been shouting from the front of rooms and computer screens to anyone who will listen, "Move them from passive to active audience members fast!
And a few brave colleagues have asked "Uh ... so ... Bridgett, how do you do that?" I should have seen that one coming, right?
Here are some of my favorite ways to get the audience involved so it's not a chalk-and-talk or a sit-and-get session. They require virtually no preparation, and you can easily and expertly insert them into any presentation or class session at any time when you ...
1. need everyone to truly think about and process what you said;
2. sense a lull; or
3. know you have been talking too much and it's time for everyone to hear another voice.
And with each technique, I provide you with additional ways to adjust and take the technique up a notch. Enjoy!
On January 27, 2017, I had the privilege of spending the day with several faculty members at Doña Ana Community College in Las Cruces, New Mexico, facilitating an edtech workshop entitled "Turn It App a Notch: Tools for a More Engaging iPad Educational Experience," and the richness of the conversations was mind-blowing!
Within the first minutes of the workshop, we began a conversation focused on what participants needed from me, the facilitator, and each other - essentially, their classmates - during the course of the workshop to make it a positive and productive experience for them.
And I want to pause now, and ask that you notice this breaking of patterns. Think back to the last time you attended a workshop; it is quite possible the facilitator had already reached conclusions about the participants' needs without actually gaining their input. Now, you might think "Bridgett, is that not ambitious and a bit challenging for the facilitator to wait until the actual workshop to get this information and then authentically and sincerely act upon it right there in front of a live audience?"
Yes, it can seem like a heavy weight on the shoulders and a high level of accountability; however, when you invite participants to make such a list, you show you care, and when you show you care, it makes it easier to accommodate the list of needs. Really! It does. It turns the workshop in to a conversation ... into an experience that makes everyone feel his/her interests and needs are in mind. And it feels SO GOOD to immediately hear participants' voices because the workshop is about them! It feels like standing back and gliding brush strokes of colors onto a blank canvas without worries of restricting borders or having to follow a set pattern!
Now back to the experience and how we REALLY discovered what it means to break some patterns in the classroom ...
I combined my pre-determined list with the participants' combined list of what they needed in order to have a beneficial learning experience in the workshop, and the amazing revelation at which we arrived was ...
Recently, a former online Communication student in one of my classes wrote he wanted to practice becoming more confident when he spoke to strangers. He was wondering just how he might be more relaxed when he talked to people he met for the first time. Was there any technique he could employ on a weekly or - let's get ambitious here! - even a daily basis?
And after a week of discussion on effective presentation techniques, I realized this was not an isolated concern. Several other students began to speak (or type) up about reservations they had when meeting persons for the first time and wanting to exude confidence in their language.
We arrived at this conclusion ...
Think back to the last time you were an audience member. What made you want to listen? What enticed you to tune-in and stay connected? Or, conversely, what made you shift your thoughts to elsewhere, check your watch, and wonder “When will this end?”
If you are a presenter, a teacher, or a facilitator of any type, you do not have to change your content, create new homework assignments, add an activity, or infuse technology for this to work. You can make a statement that goes beyond anything your shoes or clothes might communicate. No longer do you have to straddle the line of being compelling and interesting or serious and informative. You can accomplish both. All you have to do is watch what your voice does, and listen to what your body language says.
Almost every audience will have a difficult audience member. It is not what you want to hear, but it is the truth.
This is the person who is cranky for no apparent reason. This is the person who is known by colleagues and coworkers as being difficult and negative 24/7. This is the person who frowns at puppies, rainbows, or sunflowers. And the fact of the matter is you cannot control that person or what he/she says.
All you can do is control your response to him/her, which means you remain cool and calm and ignore the person's attitude for the most part. (Do not ignore the person. Ignore the attitude.) Oftentimes, if you are doing a great job with your presentation and others see that, because colleagues know this person to be something of a trouble-maker, they will address the person for you. And even in an audience where no one knows each other, if you're doing an outstanding job, you will have others who recognize this person is simply being difficult, and you may have a situation where that person gets isolated by the majority.
However, it becomes a real issue for the presenter when the audience or a heckler has some very good points that he/she brings up but for which you have not entirely prepared to address or simply did not anticipate that point would arise.
What do you do when you are requested to speak on a topic on which you are seriously passionate, but it is one that is obscure or one that has received little attention from your audience?
You may fear you will run the risk of talking over people's heads, and what good is that? Then, you look to the other extreme and decide you could simplify the topic; however, you do not want to talk down to your audience, creating overly elementary points, and subsequently creating for yourself (and possibly your audience) a boring experience. It is a conundrum in which you find yourself; that's for sure.
However, you can still discuss topics that are foreign to others and do it in a way that is an engaging time for everyone involved; actually, that's the beauty and a fundamental purpose of public speaking - to educate others. This just means you have to find ways to approach a topic or connect it to a topic or concept that is already familiar to your audience.
Three key questions to answer in your presentations about material that may be new to your audience are ...
"Turn that up!" That's what you exclaim when your favorite track comes on, and that's what you want your audience to say ... in a way ....
You want everyone to fall in love with what you have to share and "turn up the volume" on your message, but you do not want anyone to have to put forth extra effort to actually hear what you say because your voice is not loud enough.
A speaker should always use a microphone. Many will share the sentiment that their voices carry, and that's a great asset for cheering at a football game or the like, but it is not most effective for the public speaking environment. Others have something of a fear of a mic, cringing at the sound of their voice being broadcast through speakers and wanting to stay as far away from a mic as possible. When you take to the stage, you should assume you have an important message because ... well ... you do. You've spent time researching it, crafting it, refining it, and you should want everyone to clearly hear you and your message because it's an important one.
For a speaking engagement, so that everyone hears your voice at the same volume no matter where he/she is seated in the room, a mic should be used if one is made available. I recommend you always ask well in advance of your event that one be provided for your use.
You should use a mic not only for the benefit of the audience but also for the purpose of ...
In short, no, it's not okay.
Remember to never read your slides to your audience. For starters, the audience can read a slide much faster than you can read it aloud. And more importantly, you want the audience to pay attention to the words you speak, which should be far more interesting, eloquent, delicious, thoughtful, and red-hot! than what you place on any slide. Each slide should contain just enough information to highlight the major points and support what you say.
I recall a workshop I once attended where the facilitator stood at the front of the room and read material verbatim from the handout she had provided. I wanted to scream. I walked away having learned nothing I could not have read on my own.
When a presenter looks up at the projection screen to reference the material or to read it to the audience as opposed to looking at his/her laptop or computer, it's akin to ...
"What if my audience is immediately bored?"
"I"m so scared. It's possible no one will really want to listen to me, right?!"
"What do I do if everyone checks out on me?"
Is it okay to throw in an activity or make a couple of jokes on the fly to keep everyone engaged?"
"How do I keep everyone from losing interest?"
"What should I do to 'wake up' my audience?"
If you have questions similar to these, you are not alone. The best advice I can give everyone is to plan your presentation so there is no opportunity for the audience to get bored. Be proactive so you are not having to pull something out of the air to wake up your audience and, most importantly, so your audience doesn't need waking up in the first place. I know. I know. *slowly shaking head with eyes closed in affirmation to nonverbally say "I feel you"* This, you may think, is easier said than done. Not really. Trust me.
I will share with you the structure I use, and it never fails. Never. And this structure, this pattern is now yours. Use it, and I firmly believe you will keep your audiences interested.
What if you could run meetings that have your teams knocking down the doors to get IN, not knocking down the doors to get OUT?!
Not at all.
Sounds like a thing of beauty?
Every one of your meetings can arouse interest, energy, and excitement from your team. No one will fall asleep in them. Your teams will stop looking at their watches and the clocks at the back of the room and on their devices. They will be more open to what you and others have to share. Your meetings can become some of the brightest, most productive parts of the week.
So how is it done?