18 Ways to Make Your Presentation More Interactive

November 10, 2017 - Sophie Thompson

It can be difficult to hold your audience’s attention for the entire presentation. According to a Prezi study, half of the respondents said they did something other than listen during a co-worker’s presentation, including:

  • Sending a text message (28%)
  • Checking emails (27%)
  • Falling asleep (17%)

An interactive presentation is much more likely to keep your audience’s attention and build rapport with them, and there are a few simple ways to achieve this, from live polling to asking questions throughout.

This article explores several different effective strategies for making the audience feel fully involved in your presentation and keeping your audience’s eyes away from their smartphones.

Why involve your audience?

Listening to a presentation for any length of time can be a difficult process. If you don’t involve the audience, they’ll start to play with their phones, talk to colleagues and generally lose track of what you are saying. Once this happens and you start seeing that the audience would rather be somewhere else, you’ll start feeling anxious and might try to speed up the presentation.

Engage your audience with your presentation

To engage an audience fully, the presentation needs to be energetic, purposeful and staged, as if it is a direct conversation between both you and your audience. That way, they’ll absorb your ideas and insights and they’ll have learnt something in an enjoyable way.

1. Plan from the audience’s perspective

Before you start writing your presentation, think about these points:

  • What are the most interesting parts in my topic?
  • How much will the audience know about my topic? What level do I target it at?
  • Which members of the audience will most likely be disinterested?
  • How can I help them learn and understand my topic?
  • What is the size of the audience?

You can do this by researching the event or conference, investigating other speakers at the event and even contacting the organisers to find out more about the demographic.

By asking these questions about your audience and identifying answers, you are starting to think about your audience’s interests and needs. Remember, the aim is to give the impression that your presentation has been planned according to your audience’s specific interests.

2. Use an easy-to-follow structure

When building your presentation, focus on giving it a structure which people can easily follow. Start by introducing the core concepts and goals, then elaborate on the various points in a bit more detail, draw logical conclusions and leave your audience with a clear takeaway message. You want to flow naturally from one part to the next like you are telling a big story chapter by chapter.

3. Get the audience immediately involved

You audience will come to your presentation in a range of different moods. Try using a simple ice-breaker to re-energise them and get them focussed on your presentation.

For example, ask people to stand up and introduce themselves to their neighbours, or have them identify two or three questions they would like to hear addressed during your presentation. By starting with an ice-breaker, you show your audience that your talk will be interactive and require their participation.

Ask the audience questions at the beginning of your speech

4. Ask the audience questions during your presentation

The audience's attention drops to zero after just 10-15 minutes of your presentation. To get their attention back, take a break from your presentation from time to time and interact with your audience. Ask for their questions and answer them during your presentation. This will help clear up any confusion the audience might have.

When planning your presentation, identify opportunities in your material for your audience to ask questions. If you’re not comfortable breaking the flow of your presentation, mention that you’ll be taking questions at the end so the audience can prepare some questions.

Asking rhetorical questions as you move through your presentation involves your audience by stimulating their own thought processes. This technique also helps move between sections of your presentation as it establishes a clear transition from one point to another.

If you’re comfortable with taking questions throughout your presentation, use a tools such as sli.do, which allows your audience to ask questions anonymously at any time, so even shy people can participate in the discussion.

5. Use storytelling to make it more memorable

Since our early ancestors, stories have always been a huge part of human culture and civilisation. Storytelling is the most universal way to captivate your audience's attention, no matter where they are from or what they do for a living.

Stories are much more engaging and memorable than lists of facts and figures, but you wouldn’t think so looking at the majority of presentations (particularly academic ones).

People automatically tune in when you start telling your story because they want to know what happens next. A popular storytelling technique is when you present the status quo and then reveal an improved path to that end goal.

Think of your presentation as one arching narrative. As we mentioned earlier, give it the proper structure with a clear beginning, middle and end. Introduce conflict and provide a powerful resolution that reinforces your key messages.

7. Use non-linear presentation software

Instead of flipping through slide after slide, you can show the relationships between your ideas and give your audience the “big picture” view of your topic. Try letting your audience drive the presentation by laying out all of your main points, and then let them choose which topics they want to go to. Your audience will get a truly custom presentation based on their interests, which they will appreciate and more easily remember.

Prezi example of non-linear presentations

Prezi, shown above, is a popular non-linear presentation tool.

6. Add in a short video

Billions of hours of YouTube are consumed each month and advertisers have identified videos as having a high retention rate for users. However very few presentations ever use videos to engage with their audience.

Find a short video clip that reinforces your story or explains a concept better than words can. You can either embed the video directly into your presentation software or include a link to an external website. Just make sure you test your method on the day of the presentation and have a backup on a USB just in case you need it.

8. Invite people onto the stage

If you’re preparing a particularly long presentation, consider having other people to come on stage and talk for a bit. This will help you narrate the story and make the whole presentation more interactive.

Steve Jobs never pulled off the entire presentation by himself; he always invited several speakers, including designers, partners, and other executives, to help him introduce their latest product. Of course, this technique should always be arranged with your colleagues in advance.

16. Poll the audience

Polls are similar to quizzes in that they engage the audience during the presentation. Polls encourage participants to think not only about your questions but also about their answers. Moreover, live polls help create mental breaks, so your audience can regain attention and stay focused throughout your presentation.

By including everyone in answering the question, you also create a group experience that leaves the audience feeling like they all have been part your presentation.

Slido example of a live poll during a presentation

9. Use (appropriate) humour

Some of the best speeches and presentations in the world feature plenty of humour. No matter the subject, a great speaker will use natural charisma, humour and language to convey their points and get the crowd excited about what they are saying.

A great example of building rapport with the audience through the use of humour is Barrack Obama talking about the government building Iron Man.

Another example is when Morgan Spurlock offers individuals the opportunity to buy the rights to name his TED talk—which he refers to again at the end, where he reveals the title. He peppers the entire presentation with humorous commentary that nonetheless supports his point.

Create relevant jokes or find a way to bring out the humour in your subject, and your audience will be much more engaged and more likely to remember your words.

10. Practice your delivery, again and again

Practicing is the most important part of delivering an interactive presentation. You’ll need to practice where to use live quizzes, when to accept questions, which points to emphasise with body language and many more. There are several options for practicing:

  • In front of a mirror – great for seeing and improving your body language, however it can be distracting to what you are saying.
  • To friends or colleagues – a useful way to get feedback on your presentation, try and action the feedback straight away to improve on it. You can also give the person some key areas to focus their feedback on if you believe you are weaker in those areas.
  • Virtual reality – practice in realistic virtual environments, whether it be in a conference room or boardroom. Receive feedback on your speech with voice analysis technology.
Practice presentation with VR

With all three of these, you’ll want to work on your tone of voice, accent, pauses between sentences and facial expressions. The most important thing is to talk slowly and loudly enough to be heard and understood clearly.

11. Try and relate to the audience

Make comparisons to events from everyday life that most people are more than familiar with. By making things look simple, not only will you help your audience get a better understanding of the subject by enabling them to visualize the information more clearly, you will also draw a connection between you. After all, you are all just regular people with similar experience, you just happen to be performing different roles at the moment.

12. Strong body language (position, posture and gesture)

Non-verbal communication plays a large part in how we construct meaning, so it makes sense to consider how to use it in your presentation. You can make things more interesting for your audience by using your body language to enhance what you’re saying.

Body language goes beyond reinforcing your messaging – it’s useful from a biological standpoint. As discussed in her body language TED talk, Amy Cuddy’s research found that using ‘assertive’ body language released testosterone and reduced cortisol in both men and women, thereby increasing confidence and decreasing stress.

An effective presenter pays close attention to the physical relationship with her/his audience. If you stand hidden behind an overhead projector or stand too far away from your audience, they will not develop a bond with you and this will limit the effectiveness of your presentation.

Confident presentation given by woman

Your posture will also dictate levels of audience involvement. If you’re too relaxed and sit slumped in a chair to deliver your talk, the audience might drift away. Find a comfortable but purposeful position in relation to your audience and adopt an upright sitting or standing posture that allows for movement and gesture.

Audiences respond well to the physical energy and enthusiasm being conveyed by a presenter, and thus the use of clear and controlled gestures will greatly enhance your presentation. Gestures that are open and reach out to your audience serve to extend your presentation to them and thus help them feel more involved.

Examples of good body language:

  • Use hand gestures when delivering key points
  • Use calm, deliberate movements when highlighting certain information
  • Keep arms and legs uncrossed

13. Maintain eye contact with all sections of the audience

Making eye contact is one of the most powerful techniques for involving your audience. If used well, eye contact can serve to make your address much more personal and thus more effective. If eye contact is avoided, the presenter can appear to be nervous and unconvincing.

It is important to share eye contact with all members of a small audience or all sections of a large audience. Avoid making eye contact with just the people you know, taking particular care not to deliver your entire presentation to the person who’s assessing your work. Remember that you will need to involve the whole audience if you are to make an effective presentation.

If you are nervous, eye contact can be very difficult to establish and maintain. Remember that some eye contact is better than none and that you should try to build your confidence over time.

14. Use live quizzes to better understand your audience

Live quizzes are a great way to understanding your audience better get them engaging with the material.

For example, if you’re giving a presentation on autonomous vehicles, you could ask questions such as:

  • When do you think autonomous vehicles will become mainstream?
  • Are you concerned by safety issues?
  • If someone is injured or killed by the car, who is to blame?

These will surely create some interesting results which you, as the presenter, can talk about and discuss.

15. Use physical props if possible

You don’t need to be giving a product demo to use props during your presentation. Props are a great way to help the audience visually picture what you are talking about. While talking through your presentation, you can refer to the prop at certain points to highlight your point or make it clear to the audience.

Kenny Nguyen does this will in his TEDx talk on 'The Art of Saying No'. He refers to the "sword of yes" and "shield of no." Naturally he picks up a sword and shield from the table to help demonstrate his points.

Another great example is when Jill Bolte Taylor brings a real human brain on stage during her TED talk to explain to what happened to her when she had a stroke. She touched the audience with this demonstration and left the audience in complete awe.

Using a brain as a physical prop during a presentation

17. Extend your usual vocal range

Your tone of voice, your volume, and other vocal aspects affect how people listen and hear your message.

Julian Treasure’s TED talk on 'How to speak so that people want to listen' is all about this, and at the end offers several tips 'in our toolbox' for how to master the use of voice, from changing your speaking pace to speaking in a different pitch.

Get feedback from a friend or colleague to see what works best for you.

18. Use language and literary techniques

Your use of language has a huge influence on the way you engage your audience. It’s important to use language your audience understands and is familiar with. Avoid using language that is too formal or informal, too technical or too simplistic depending upon the nature of your talk and the knowledge base of your audience. Pitching your presentation at the right level can be a challenge but it is very effective for making the audience feel involved.

There are various literary techniques you can use, such as the Power or Three, to give greater impact to your message.

Summary

Involving your audience is essential to making an impact. Your presentation should pull them in, get their attention and stimulate their thoughts and understanding. This can be done in a number of ways.

The way that you plan your presentation will be critical in terms of using language and ideas that your audience will understand. You must also ensure that there is sufficient time for questions and discussion. The way that you deliver your presentation should create a bond with your audience.

Your use of eye contact, body language, spoken words and energy should communicate effectively and enthusiastically with all areas of the room, thus ensuring that the audience receives positive messages about you and your material.