What to do when your audience isn’t engaged.

Jun 28, 2018Posted by: mdctraining


Fear Factor: What to do when the “worst-case scenario” happens.

By Ashley Denuzzo

We’ve all been there. Countless hours working on a presentation seems wasted when something glitches or goes horribly wrong. Maybe your slideshow decided to become corrupt overnight, or your audience cares more about what’s on their phone than what’s on your PowerPoint; or that dreaded anxiety has resurfaced and now your stomach is in knots.

 Whatever your “worst-case scenario” is, we want to help you find a light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve composed a three-part blog series that looks at common presentation flubs and how to overcome those hurdles. You can’t control everything, but you can control how you react and respond when things go awry. And at the end of the day, your audience wants to remember you – not what happens to you.

This is the first article of a three-part blog series. Stay tuned for Part Two: When your Nervousness Takes Over.


You can have the most beautiful slide deck, but if your delivery falls short no one will remember it. People want to feel included, engaged and connected to your content.

If you notice that audience members are starting to pull out their phones, yawn or talk to one another, it’s time to turn off the PowerPoint and start engaging with your peers. Audience involvement techniques turn listeners into partners. And when someone is directly involved in your presentation, they’re more likely to listen and remember its content.

Poll the Group

A simple question can immediately captivate a large group. Ask for a show of hands about something related to your topic of discussion. For example, if your presentation is about transit planning, you might want to ask, “How many of you drive to work every day?” Pause and count the hands. You are collecting data and your audience is waiting to see what you do with it. Use the data as a lead into a certain section of your presentation and refer back to it when necessary. This resonates with your audience because they are literally part of your presentation.

Conduct a Serial Take-up

This technique is similar to polling the group, except you specifically ask individuals to come up with their own answers. It’s great for brainstorming with the group and for soliciting opinions while keeping a controlled environment. For example, if your presentation is about childhood nutrition you may ask, “How many pounds of sugar does the average 10-year-old consume in a year?” Record the guesses on a flipchart or smartboard and be sure you write suggestions exactly as you hear them. You can either do the big reveal immediately after the take-up or share it with your peers later on. It’ll help reinforce the point you’re trying to make.

Integrate Quizzes and Surveys

 Quizzes are a fun and highly engaging way to reveal facts about your subject while still treating a presentation seriously. For example, if you’re doing a talk on schoolboard budgets, you might want to ask the audience to rank five countries in terms of the amount spent on teacher salaries. You can also try word association; if your topic is managing email, ask your audience to quickly write down the first three words that come to mind about email. This gets your audience thinking critically about your subject and they are therefore more likely to be personally invested in the rest of your presentation.

Involving your listeners will make them more interested in your subject and more likely to remember what was said. People don’t just want to hear a story, they want to be part of it. That’s exactly how you should treat your presentation – as a narrative that will educate, engage and inspire your audience.

 Don’t just talk to them; let them talk to you!

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