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Top tips for increasing engagement during presentations

Last updated August 20th, 2021
Seated audience clapping and taking notes in presentation

It is the most exciting and rewarding job on the planet. There is nothing quite like the buzz of delivering a live ‘show’ - often with no rehearsal - it's creative, energetic, intense & totally varied . No day is the same

Lorne Armstrong, Director, The Event Academy

Presentations offer a unique challenge to those doing the presenting. How to keep the audience’s attention during what is usually a one-way conversation.

It’s something our event managers have to contend with all the time and something we cover in our event management courses. How to increase engagement during a presentation.

Rather than keep all the good advice to ourselves, we thought we would share some of the tips with our valued readers.

What follows are a series of tips that can help increase engagement during even the longest presentation. We hope you can find something useful here!


Put yourself in the audiences’ shoes

When you’re planning your presentation, put yourself in the shoes of your audience and approach it from their perspective.

What do they want or need to know? How will they respond to data? Can I use humour or narrative to keep them interested? Will the audience immediately understand the topic or will I have to explain?

Considering your presentation from that perspective will help you design a presentation that closer matches their needs, which should help improve engagement.


Create a logical flow

Think of your presentation as a story where one topic flows logically into another in a wider unfolding narrative.

Lurching from one topic to another without some kind of link or flow can unsettle an audience and cause them to disengage. Keeping the flow natural and unfolding the presentation as you go should help build anticipation in the audience, which helps keep them engaged.


Actively engage the audience

If you can engage the audience in active participation, all the better. Not every type of presentation lends itself to this but if yours does, use it.

Ask questions, ask the audience to demonstrate or offer alternatives. Ask for rebuttals or opinions on points made and try to involve them as much as possible.

If you don’t want to interrupt your flow, mention throughout that you’ll take questions once you’re done to keep people interested. People are much more likely to remain engaged if they think they may need to call on some of your information later.

Tell stories

We have mentioned narratives a couple of times so far, and for good reason. They work. Telling stories works and you can use that within presentations.

Stories are engaging and are an exceptional way to share information with an audience. If you can weave a story into your presentation or use anecdotes to explain concepts, you’ll find your audience will pay far more attention.

If you can add an emotive element or use something the audience holds dear or values within that story, even better!


Mix up your mediums

Nobody wants to sit through a slideshow for an hour being talked at. Avoid that by mixing your mediums.

Use slides when relevant and where they work best but also integrate video, audio, demonstrations, free talking, questions and answers, a skit or sketch or other mediums to keep things varied and interesting.

Slides are fine when they make sense but are never the most engaging. Work with that, change it up and you should keep the audience with you for much longer.


Use polls or quizzes

If technology allows, use an app or even social media to run polls during the presentation or even run quizzes during down time.

There are lots of opportunities you can use to ask questions, run polls, ask for opinion, run competitions and other engaging elements within a presentation.

If your format allows for it, use it. People love having their say and feeling like their opinion is valued.

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Use lots of relevant examples

If you put yourself in the shoes of your audience, you can probably come up with a raft of everyday examples they can relate to.

Using relatable examples helps the audience transpose your concepts into real life and how it is relevant to them. Depending on the subject matter, you can use work examples, sports, social, newsworthy examples or something else entirely.

Tune it to the topic and the audience and see what you can come up with.


Don’t forget eye contact

Eye contact is vital regardless of the size of the audience or the venue. Doing everything you can to look at the entire audience is a very effective way to keep people engaged.

We are much more likely to pay attention if we think the speaker is talking directly to us. Use that and some of these other tips bring the audience closer and keep them there.


Don’t underestimate the power of the prop

You do have to be careful with props but if used well, they are incredibly powerful at communicating concepts and increasing engagement.

Make sure your props aren’t cheesy or likely to offend and make them relevant to the subject matter. If you can do that, they can be very powerful.

One of the best examples we have ever seen of this was from Jill Bolte Taylor who used a real human brain as a prop to explain how she was affected by her stroke.

Use throwable microphones

Throwable microphones may be a gimmick but when combined with other elements can be a useful way to keep things light hearted.

When you ask questions of the audience, use a throwable microphone rather than having to wait until the mic has been passed or asking the audience to move to the aisle.

These microphones are light and wrapped in foam to prevent injury. They are also a little playful and encourage the audience to participate more in the conversation. Even if it’s to catch a mis-thrown microphone rather than to ask the actual question!


Feature games and competition

If the size, scope, audience and subject matter allow, include games and competitions in your presentation.

They can be as simple as ‘would you rather’ to quizzes, memory games, true or false and others. If you can make the game relevant to the topic or as a way of understanding the concepts, that would work wonders.

If suitable for the audience, adding an element of competition is also a powerful engagement tool. Boys vs girls, sales vs. support, bosses vs. staff or whatever.

Including any element of competition can bring out the best and the worst in people so be careful how you do it!


Stick to everyday language

Unless you’re presenting to specialists for whom specific words and language use really works, try to use everyday language wherever you can.

Avoid corporate speak, avoid using complicated words or phrases and make sure your presentation is structured so everyone, at every likely experience level, can understand.

Nothing loses an audience faster than lots of unnecessarily complicated words and phrases or feeling excluded because you don’t explain things properly.

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Use previews effectively

A preview is an often underestimated element of a presentation. It’s the part where you introduce what’s coming next.

It builds on the structure we mentioned earlier. When you switch points or topics, a preview tells the audience what you’re covering, why you’re covering it and what to expect.

It’s a way to build anticipation, to focus the audience and let them fully engage with the next part of the presentation.

Just remember to always deliver on the promises you make within the preview!


Signpost transitions

Transitions are those parts of a presentation when you move from one point to another. They link the topic you just covered with what’s coming next and works with previews to provide a logical structure and flow.

They also help the audience to keep up, understand that the section is complete and that the next one is coming. You can signpost transitions in a number of ways, from a change of slide or background colour, change in lighting, opportunity to ask questions or answering some user-submitted questions.

The more imaginative you can be with your transitions, the easier your audience can follow you and not shut down.


Include yourself in the presentation

Including personal stories or anecdotes within a presentation helps break down that barrier between presenter and audience.

Adding a personal story relevant to your point or even telling a story including an attendee can add that element of informality that lacks in many events. It also helps engage with the audience and gets them paying attention, even if only to make sure you don’t include them in the next story!

Don’t just sit or stand there

One of the reasons TED talks are so successful is their informal nature. Presenters stand up, move around and are animated. You can use the same principles for your presentation.

Stand up, use a remote pointer, roll up your sleeves, walk around the stage or even walk around the audience if you can. It all helps make you relatable as well as create more of a connection with your audience.


Use technology

Slides are okay but they are typically one dimensional and not that engaging. If the event allows, using live actors, augmented reality, 360 video, drone or video footage and other media can help keep people involved.

Using any engagement medium can help build interest by offering visual or audio stimulation, interest in something different and fascination at a new way of demonstrating or interacting with a technology.

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Live barometers

Live barometers are methods to get the audience moving and engaged during a presentation. They won’t work in every situation but wherever possible, they can be quite effective.

Ask questions, hold polls and ask the audience to move to one side of the room or the other depending on their opinion.

It’s a very simple concept but gets people moving and interacting with each other as well as with the presenter. It can work as an excellent icebreaker before a networking session too.

Those are some of the many things you can do to improve engagement in presentations. We’re sure you can come up with more!

We run the only Event Management courses endorsed by The Chartered Institute of Marketing - an organisation recognised with a Royal Charter for excellence. Our range of event management courses provide you with the essential combination of knowledge, experience and industry-respected endorsement for every level.

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