Originally posted on Evvnt Industry News by Adam Parry.
We've all been there: the speaker is nearing the end of their presentation, heading towards the fifteen minutes they've set aside for 'questions and discussion'. Then, as the slide with 'Any questions?' appears on the screen, you could hear a pin drop. Tumbleweed rolls by and everyone stares at their feet. So why isn't your audience eager to stick their hands in the air and get involved? In reality there will be a number of reasons, so we've outlined a few tips on how you can avoid the post-presentation silence and have your audience desperate to ask questions...
Know your audience
You'd hope that every presenter would have an understanding of the types of people that will be in the audience and what they will be interested in, yet we often sit through sessions that aren't quite what we expected. When you're invited to speak at an event make sure you ask the organisers what type of people will be there, what their reasons are for attending and their pain points. If you know who you are speaking to, you can get the content right resulting in a much more engaged audience. If you're addressing something that they can actually relate to, they're much more likely to fire a question your way.
Break the ice
First impressions are everything. If you can get the audience on your side right from the off, then things will be a lot easier further down the line. I recently caught the opening session at EMEC 2014 in Istanbul, where Dave Sharpe energised the audience by asking people to take out the most peculiar thing they carried in their bags and showed it to the rest of the audience. It was a simple request, but really lightened the mood and had the audience laughing. From that point on people were engaged and switched on.
Keep them engaged
If you can get away with it, don't simply introduce yourself and talk at the faces in the crowd for an hour. If you can drop in activities and votes throughout your talk then the likelihood is the audience will feel more energised to participate in the discussion by asking questions.
Make sure everyone can ask questions
You might be happy to stand up in front of a room full of strangers and talk, but not everyone feels the same. According to the National Institute of Mental Health an amazing 74% of people are afraid of public speaking, so you need to get round this somehow. Try using an audience interaction tool to give everyone an equal chance at asking a question or adding their two-penneth without having to speak out loud.
Of course, there are hundreds of ways to engage with your audience (and many books have been written on this very topic!) but following the few simple tips above will go a long way to ensuring some level of audience-based discussion will take place.
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