Engaging the Audience

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Engaging the audience can be the difference between a great and a poor presentation, and involves not only the content, but many social skills too.

A context where I used this skill:
Presenting is something fairly new to me, and something I've shied away from for many years due to my stammer. My fear was I would not engage the audience, in fact my fear was the exact opposite, I would make the audience disengaged as I spluttered my way through a presentation. Nevertheless, I felt I had a story to tell and so set about learning more about presentation skills. I attended a short presentation skills course which gave me some tips to planning the presentation, and some tips about engaging the audience. I managed to get a session accepted at Agile Cambridge in the UK So armed with this training, and having planned (and rehearsed many times!) my presentation, the time came to deliver.

Something I vowed I would never do is give a long bio at the start, because I really dislike that in presentations, and makes me switch off. So no introduction, just launched straight into it. The presentation had a chronological format, going through the decades starting at 1968. The first question I asked was "who remembers 1968?" which immediately elicited a response. I swiftly followed this up with some facts including that Steve Jobs was still in high school, which draw some laughs from the audience.

I was pretty happy with the engagement I was getting, but the moment I remember most was when I got to the 80s, and asked the audience another question... C64 or ZX Spectrum. This draw a very emotional response from the audience, and reignited the deep rooted rivalry that existed in the 80s. Throughout the rest of the presentation, I tried to keep it lighthearted and natural. I personally much prefer listening to someone who is just talking, rather than someone who has their game-face on. I also tried to keep eye contact with various people around the room. I generally find this very difficult (as do a lot of people), but it really made a difference, allowing me to express myself on a more personal level.

Overall, I felt the presentation was a reasonable success, but I was really pleased with the reactions I got from the audience. If I had not have put in the humorous lines, the asking the audience bits and the nostalgic references, it would have been a different experience.

How I'd recommend someone learn this skill:
This is a good introduction to soft skills required for good presentations: Engage the Audience Presentation Skills Workshop

Content is the other engaging factor. Your slide deck can make or break the presentation. Remember, less is more and it is YOU who is presenting the information, not the projector!

For some examples of what NOT to do, watch Life after death by Powerpoint by Don McMillan.

Additional resources:
Skills Workshop
Toastmasters International provides a way to do deliberate practice for presentations

By: Chris George

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