6 Practical Tips For Getting And Keeping Audiences Engaged

In another post titled Are You Making This Massive Mistake During Your Presentation?, I revealed a story about a speaker at an annual association conference. This guy had everyone in the room sitting on the edge of their seats because he delivered the exact opposite of a lecture.

If you missed that story, catch up here first. Then, continue reading on to learn six practical ways to enthrall your audience in the same exact manner.

Chunking Content

The concept of segmented content chunks was introduced in Are You Making This Massive Mistake During Your Presentation? There’s very solid scientific evidence for chunking—so go back and read that if you need a refresher.

These suggested durations are based on scientific research, but you don’t need to be rigid with them.

Based on this insight, you’re going to create content for a 60-minute presentation in 5 segments that last 7 minutes each. In between those chunks you’ll insert 5 interactive breaks that last 3 minutes each. During the interactive breaks, you’ll utilize the six techniques below to easily get and keep your audience engaged. You’ll then have 7-10 minutes left for Q&A, if desired.

The Six Tips

1. The Subliminal Icebreaker. Before your first content segment, this opening activity gets your audience prepared for future interactions. If you say, “This is an interactive session today and you’ll be talking with your neighbor”, people will quickly become uncomfortable. Get around this with a fun and relevant question. Then give instructions for them to turn and share with the person on either side. The trick is in the question itself and by not calling attention to the “interactivity”.

For example, I once gave a talk to a group of professionals that included both creatives and business executives. My Subliminal Icebreaker was, “Would you describe yourself as a Mac or a PC—and why?”. The room erupted with a lively 3-minute discussion that moved the energy from passive to engaged.

2. The Key Objective. This break follows your first segment where you laid out expectations. Let’s say you introduced three concepts you’ll soon share and how those tie into the promise of the session. Again ask the audience to turn to the person on either side and share one objective they want to understand. This reminds them of their personal learning goals. It also allows them to realize what they might already know about the topic—so they can link new learning to old. When this occurs, the audience becomes attentive.

3. The Individual Reflection. After your second segment, another “pair and share” style interaction would be stale. Here’s an opportunity for audience members to absorb the material during a quite moment. Let them briefly relax, take notes, and internalize the information. This is when content has a chance to move into long-term memory. Zen-like contemplation for 3 minutes—that’s all.

4. The Quick Exchange. This next break is the easiest way to invite the audience into deeper participation. They’ve already become comfortable with the active learning environment you’ve created. By once again asking them to turn and discuss with their neighbor—they are involved in a discussion. They are asking questions and listening to someone else’s ideas. It also gives them a chance to review the information. All of this empowers individuals to take action on the information after they leave your presentation.

5. The Fill-In-The-Blank. As things wind to a close, this interaction keeps the audience focused and engaged with a worksheet or handout. Walk them through filling in the blank on a couple of key statements during this break. Simply tell them what to write and where. Research has shown that retention increases by interacting with written information. They’ll also derive deeper meaning from the content.

6. The Top 3 Takeaways. This is it, the last interaction and a powerful way to encourage the audience to make a commitment to do something with what they’ve learned. They’ll also think about how to apply what they’ve learned to real-world challenges. Writing down three takeaway ideas or concepts helps them decide upon a course of action.

For example, I’ll usually provide postcards with a handout that has three numbered blanks. I then instruct everyone to write three things they want to commit to implement. I also tell them to fill in their return address, then drop the card off with my assistant at the door. We’ll put a stamp on it and send it through the mail. A few days later, the postcard arrives as a reminder. Audiences love this.

Put The Audience At The Center

These are simple, subtle techniques that get audiences tuned into your message. The reason why is that it puts them at the center of the content. They aren’t being lectured at, passively subjected to a dump of facts, figures, and stats.

The six examples above aren’t definitive, but give you a great place to start. They may even spark some other ideas you may want to try. The bottom line is you must get out of the way of your content and get the audience primed to process what you’re sharing. Good luck!


Have you observed speakers using the exact same techniques or similar ones? Do you think they were effective or not—and why? Share your answer on Twitter or Facebook.


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