There may have been a time in history when audiences would just sit quietly while a presenter rambled on. Perhaps people were "trained" by society to accept whatever was being dumped on them.
In todays age, the time of the accommodating audience has passed. Your listeners interact every day with information while they surf the web or, in some cases, through their television remotes in digital cable. Rather than lament the inability of an audience to just passively listen to your presentation, work energetically to involve them in the event. Here are a few easy ways to help you do just that.
1. Ask them to share what they are learning as they learn it.
As you speak, stop after some of the major points and say, "Lets check in. Turn to someone near you and tell him or her what you just heard me say about (whatever your topic is). Lets see how well I am doing with helping you learn." Approach this gently and humorously. Give the attendees a chance to reenergize by processing your talk as it happens to cement the new learning into their minds. Do this several times as you speak, giving the audience just a few minutes to interact.
2. They can tell a story of their experiences with your subject.
This is especially good at the very beginning of a presentation. Say, "Today I am talking about (the subject). Is there a time in your life when you or someone you know encountered (the subject)? How did you react to it? How does (the subject) fit into your life? Turn and briefly tell your story to the person in the next seat." You can also do this at the end of your presentation, asking folks to talk about something that came to mind as you spoke.
3. Invite them to create a quick sample or demonstration with your information.
I recently had a chance to teach marketing to fellow performing artists. While most artists struggle with the idea of marketing, todays world requires them to embrace new ways of thinking. After I presented examples of critical marketing tools, I turned the audience loose to create examples of the items we had just discussed. Working in small pick-up groups of five or six audience members, the participants picked up large pieces of paper and markers I had left at tables in the back of the room. As they worked to make an example of a business card, post card or one-sheet, they discussed among themselves the material I had presented. Rather than being passive observers, they were now part of teaching each other.
Regardless of your topic, there are ways for you to move your presentation from something people look at to something they can experience. We know from studying the psychology of learning that every time we add another sense (such as touch, smell, hearing) to a presentation, retention of the learning is increased. Help your audience to take hold of your subject and give them a creative way to interact with you and each other.
The author, Sean Buvala, is a full-time storyteller, speaker and public-speaking trainer who has worked nationally since 1986. You can learn more about booking Sean for your events as well as sign-up for his free 30-lesson Ecourse at seantells.com or follow him on Twitter at Twitter @Storyteller.