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It's true. The average attention span of an audience member is just 15 minutes, so if you leave the audience watching for a long period of time, you increase the chance of them drifting off into snooze-land.
Audience interaction is the solution. It's energising and engaging and all things necessary for your audience to pay attention. Interactivity is a powerful tool for ensuring that your audience receives and retains your message.
One of my favorite ways to get an audience engaged is to give them an Individual Task. This is something that you ask your audience members to do to concrete your message. Most times these are 'in your seats' exercises and can start as briefly as a 'hands up if you...' question. By giving the audience an Individual Task, you shift the dynamic from a one-way information flow: "I'll just listen and gather information" to a two-way interaction: "I'm also involved in this talk and thereby invested."
Practical interaction increases memory recall and puts the responsibility on the audience to learn. Individual Tasks are best used with a large audience but the room layout keeps them from interacting well with each other such as a lecture hall. Here are several types of Individual Tasks and examples of how best to use them.
The simplest method of individual interaction is to ask your audience to take notes or write down your contact details. Not necessarily super inventive or exciting right? But still vital to the process. Good note taking has been shown to not only be a referral source for the audience but it also aids memory recall. Encourage note taking by:
Quizzes add a lively and competitive feeling to a room. Get the audience to interact by testing their knowledge on a subject with a true/false quiz. Or you could test their attitude towards your subject. After you've finished the quiz, bring the learning from it back to the whole room by getting audience members to share their answers. Do this by a show of hands or asking individuals for their answers.
If you're feeling really bold, you could make it into a lively game by getting audience members to 'vote with their feet' and move to the part of the room that represents their answers - 'If you agree go to the left side of the room, if you disagree, head over to the right.'
Go deeper with your audience by getting them to put your information into practice. You could have the audience write down their answers to a series of questions, make a diagram, draw something. The possibilities are endless.
Exercises are important when you have a strong learning message and want to test their ideas/abilities when you're in the same room. You can even make a handout to increase engagement. Hey a handout never hurt anyone! Don't forget to put your brand/logo/contact details on any handouts - your goal here is to be memorable. And don't make it boring - think of fresh, innovative handouts that spark creativity while meeting your audience's needs.
The most common interaction in a large audience, the Question and Answers portion of your speech can be terrifying. (More on how to handle awkward audience questions here.) It's totally up to you whether you take questions during or after your speech. Don't worry! You're not expected to know all the answers. Promise.
One downfall of the Q&A is how the rest of the audience can be bored while you're answering the person asking the question. To engage more of your audience in a Q&A, use 'hands up' questions, "How many of you have had a near death experience?", "How many of you know someone who has?", or "How many of you would consider yourselves religious?".
One of my favourite Individual Tasks uses the audience as a visual aid. Choose statistics that are key to your message and use your audience to BE those stats:
Imagine that everyone in this room represent the global population. Can I ask this half of the room to stand up? All of those standing own just 1% of the world's wealth.
Now I'd like this group to stand up (gesture to about 30% of the audience) = you own about 6% of the world's wealth
Now may I ask the rest of you to stand up, apart from you (gesture to a small cluster people representing 1% of the audience) - you own about half the world's wealth.
And finally, let's have the last group of people in the room stand, the rest of you sit down please. These few individuals own 43% of the world's wealth. Now... how does that make the rest of you feel? Combine this with visual aids. Illustrate each group you refer to with an image on PowerPoint or give a 'gift' to each group. The first getting a loaf of bread to share with each other, and the last group getting your car keys.
Good individual interaction engages all of the audience with the task. To make that happen, don't be afraid to make one or more requests for the audience to get involved. Stick to your requests with confidence and you'll soon have everyone happy, engaged, and participating!
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