3 Ways to Actively Engage Your Audience When Presenting

Last Updated on April 25, 2017

The more engaged an audience, the more attentive it is. In this post, we share three tips to keep your audience engaged in your next presentation.

1. Tell stories.

A powerful way to make connections is telling stories. The key is to have a storyline with conflict and resolution. The story can be funny or serious, short or long, dramatic or happy. Regardless of what the story is, the audience must connect with it.

Two great examples of storytelling in presentations:

  • Drew Dudley: Everyday leadership, a 6-min talk about why we should redefine leadership as the everyday act of improving each other’s lives.
  • Sugata Mitra: Build a School in the Cloud, an interesting story from researcher Sugata Mitra, who won the 1-million-dollar TED Prize 2013 to Build a School in the Cloud, where children can explore and learn from one another.

2. Ask questions.

Every time you ask a question to your audience, you trigger them to think of the answer (or stop wandering in space and re-focus). This way, you make sure that the audience remains engaged and hears your message.

However, asking questions can be tricky. You may hear crickets. You may be left there hanging. You may get some distractedly wrong answers. How to ask the right questions to avoid all of the above: 

  • Ask easy questions first, hard questions later.
    Make sure that you start with some easy-to-answer questions and then move gradually to the difficult ones. For example, a mentor who would like to engage a class of students regarding their future careers would ask questions in the following order:

    • What is your dream job?
    • Why have you chosen this one?
    • Do you have any plans on how to get there?

If the mentor had started with the last one, she probably wouldn’t have heard the answers she was looking for.

  • Notify your audience.
    As a speaker, it is easy to assume that the audience is hanging onto your every word. But since we are all human, this is not the case. It is natural for our minds to drift, which means that members of your audience may not be paying full attention at times. Thus, before you ask the question, make sure to ‘notify’ your audience. For example, you can say “And now, I have a question for you to answer” or “Here’s an interesting question for you.”
  • Wait for the answer.
    If you ask a question and want your audience to answer voluntarily, don’t rush into providing the answer. Be patient and wait, as you usually won’t hear responses immediately. Give your audience time to think, and prepare to share their answers publicly.

    While waiting, look patiently different persons from the audience until someone speaks. After about 10-15 seconds (a timeframe which may feel like an eternity, from a speaker perspective) you have 2 choices:

    • Repeat the question and ask them to share the answer with the person sitting next to them, or
    • Answer yourself and move on smoothly with your presentation.

3. Repeat the key message.

Sometimes when presenting, you may feel that the audience is not fully understanding your message. If this is the case, there is no need to worry. To hit the meaning of your message home, recall one of the key rules of public speaking: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them.”

One simple way to do this is the following:

  • Start your presentation by sharing the main points of your presentation (which should be no more than 6).
    This will help you set expectations, while helping your audience focus in on the main points.
  • Recap quickly after each main point.
    This will emphasize the point, as well as keep your audience on track.
  • At the end, offer the audience a chance to showcase what they’ve learned.
    After you’ve finished your presentation, take a step back to ask your audience to remind themselves (or their neighbor) of the key takeaways from the presentation.

Engaging Your Audience: A Practical Example

Now, let’s see the above points in action, with a real-life example.

1. Telling a story: When I train people on body language in public speaking, I start my training with a story about my own (former) fear of public speaking, some funny (and slightly embarrassing) events about my public speaking experience and where I stand now.

2. Asking questions: Later, when the audience has relaxed into the presentation, I ask questions about how they are feeling today, why they registered for the specific session, why they are afraid of public speaking. Last but not least, I ask if they’re willing to try new ways to overcome it. I wait patiently for the answers, and if I don’t get one, I remind them the question and politely ask them to share it with their neighbours.

3. Repeating the key message: Throughout the presentation, I move into showing the training session’s five main parts: head & eyes, torso, hands & palms, legs and voice. In each part of the presentation, I offer specific advice on how people can use it effectively to transmit the right message to their audience. At the end of each part, I ask my audience to remind me what we’ve discussed in the specific part. After we have covered all parts of the presentation, I ask the audience to do a quick recap: what were the main parts of the session and which were the advice I offered during the previous 1.5-2 hours?

Now it’s your turn, go forth and engage your audience! And share your personal experiences in the comments below.

Put these tips to use in classrooms & mentor sessions

100mentors is the platform and network empowering students to connect with mentors on-demand to guide them in their most important academic and career decisions. With 100mentors, schools enable students to open up their circles of influence to include mentors from 300+ universities and 500+ companies across the world, while companies and universities are able to tap into a quality pool of potential program and job candidates.


This is one post of 6-part series, Presentation Must-Knows, highlighting the must-knows of presentations and public speaking. To catch up on the rest of the Presentation Must-knows, check out Part 1 of 6: The basics, Part 2 of 6: The technological aspect, Part 3 of 6: 5 Tips to Avoid Death by PowerPoint and Part 4 of 6: 4 Ways to Use Body Language to Be Perceived as a Friendly & Influential Speaker.

Nikos gets out of bed every morning to bridge the gap between formal education and 'paideia' (values, attitudes & role-models). He delivers experiential workshops to people who want to develop their public-speaking skills. At 100mentors, he helps Student Recruitment Officers connect with top-students worldwide.

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