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From the desk of Steve Lowell, Master Speaker and Mentor to those who speak in public.


Audience Engagement

I recently attended a workshop, conducted by an experienced professional speaker. As part of the session, we were all given an opportunity to deliver a short presentation. My presentation included a bit of audience interaction. After I completed my presentation, our host strongly suggested that, as speakers, we should never engage our audience. His argument was that we relinquish control when we do this, and may find it difficult to get that control back.

I have to tell you, I have over thirty years of experience, having been in the entertainment business, and in the speaking business, and I would beg to differ. I engage my audience at every opportunity. Though it does require some skill to maintain control at times, the rewards are well worth whatever risk is present.

Your audience members donít want to be static recipients of your message. They want to be a part of the show. That doesnít mean you should be getting them on the stage, although that can, and should, happen occasionally. It does mean, however, that they want to be, at the very least, mentally and emotionally involved.

There are safe ways to engage your audience and still maintain control. For example, you can have them raise their hands, have them stand up, have them yell out answers to your questions, or even have them catch things you toss out to them, always in a safe fashion, obviously! These are very simple ways to engage your audience, and it takes nothing away from your performance, but it brings your audience into the game with you.

There is one stipulation that should be noted, however. Audience engagement must have a purpose, other than to get them engaged. There must be a reason for getting them to do something. Otherwise, it comes across as a tactic, and not an important part of the session. If youíre going to ask for them to raise their hands, do something with that resulting show of hands. Explain the purpose of the exercise. Have a point to it all.

Iíve seen many speakers ask their audience to interact, with no explanation or reason behind the interaction. This gets old very fast, and your audience will stop complying, or comply out of politeness, and begrudge you every minute of it.

So, whatís the lesson? Get your audience engaged, but with a purpose in mind, and youíll keep their attention.

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