I is for Involve Your Audience

Involve your Audience

If I hear it, I may forget it.
If I see it I may remember it.
If I do it, I know it.
– Confucius

Audiences who are involved in your talk can retain up to 90% of your message.


An adult learning facts study revealed that an audience remembers:

  • 10% of what it reads
  • 20% of what it hears
  • 30% of what it sees
  • 50% of what it sees and hears
  • 70% of what it says
  • 90% of what it says and does

Adults need to be involved in the learning process

There should be an exercise that engages the audience after every 20 minutes of lecture.

In the 1970’s EST was in vogue, I consented to be locked up in a windowless convention room for two solid weekends with no watch to keep track of time. What I remember of that experience is not what I was told, but how I got involved:

1) I had to act like a man (and got called on to repeat the effort because I was “holding back”).

2)I had to stand in front of an audience of 1,500 and make eye contact (my legs felt like logs, and I had a hard time walking off the stage).

3) I participated in a guided meditation that made the discomfort of my aching body and full bladder disappear after hours of sitting.

These three extremely engaging exercises probably didn’t add up to more than 30 minutes. But they were minutes where I was actively involved. Now, over 25 years later, I still recall them and the lessons I learned from my participation. I can’t remember anything else that happened the other 63.5 hours of the EST seminar.

Examples of engaging exercises:

  • Role Play
  • Exercises
  • Case Study
  • Demonstration
  • Sharing
  • Brainstorm
  • Feedback
  • Questions

In his book, Successful Presentations for Dummies, Malcolm Kusher suggests the following for audience involvement:

  • Play games “To help us get in the mood for this discussion, I’d like to start with a group activity called…”
  • Make teams “Now I’d like this half of the room to get together and discuss….”
  • Offer challenges. “I’m certain that my figures are accurate, and their impact is quite clear. I don’t think there is an alternative, but if someone thinks they can handle.)


I witnessed the most remarkable use of questions while participating in Harv Ekar’s Millionaire Mind Weekend. He kept an audience of approximately 2,000 people alive, awake, aware, alert, engaged, involved, and active, primarily through the use of questions FOR THREE DAYS! It was amazing. 

Tom Antion, creator of the Wake ’em Up Speaker System says, “Asking questions of the audience is a great way to force them into the thinking mode.”  He offers excellent tips on effective use of questions to involve the audience:

Grab the audience right from the start

  • Open you presentation with an intriguing or outrageous question.

Simulate and Instill Learning

  • Ask questions on material covered previously.
  • Invite questions from the audience.
  • Break audience up into groups and ask each group to decide what one question they will ask that they think will be most beneficial to the entire audience if answered.

Audience Wake-Up Calls

  • After making a statement, ask, “Right?” and prompt the audience to respond.
  • Frequently ask, “How many here have…?”
  • Frequently ask, “Has anyone ever…?”.
  • After sharing an experience ask, “Has anyone here ever experienced this?”

Use Questions to Evoke Feelings

  • Romance: “Do you remember your first kiss?”
  • Warm fuzzy: “Do you recall the last time you curled up next to a roaring fire with a good book?” (or lover, or pet or movie?)
  • Sad/distressed: “Do you remember doing something bad as a child? What type of punishment did you receive?”
  • Embarrassment: “Can you remember the most embarrassing moment of your life?”
  • Happy: “Do you recall receiving your first piece of great news?”

If You Want Lots of Questions:

  • At the beginning of your presentation, offer to take questions whenever they come up.
  • Offer encouragement to questioners throughout your presentation, even to the point of saying something like, “I can’t believe no one has a question on…”

Audience Has No Questions:

  • Have some planted ahead of time.
  • Offer previously asked questions “One question that is frequently asked…”


And MORE wisdom concerning questions!

From Business Presentations and Public Speaking (First Books for Business):

  • “Front row people may have little to offer (many are just wanting attention.)
  • “The back rows of the audience are often filled with the least interested people, but they are also the haunts of people most skeptical about what you’re saying. If you want challenging questions, look to these rows for inquiries.”
  • “A simple way to handle the person who attempts to dominate by asking too many questions is to move to the other side of the room, where it’s harder to see him or her and easier to call on others in the audience.”

From: Successful Presentations for Dummies

  • “Rambling questioners: Use the Larry King Technique ‘Can you state your question please?'”


Audience Feedback

Master Storyteller Jack Barnard from his book, We Get Our Cue From You, reminds us about the importance of feedback as a means to get the audience involved:

  • Near the conclusion, have them (audience) summarize their experience. Give them five minutes to turn to the person next to them (or their group) and discuss the two best ideas they got from the presentation. How will they use these ideas in their everyday lives? At the conclusion, there can be sharing with the whole audience or with their teams.
  • Suggest that audience members write down the best ideas from the presentation in their calendars or journals on the day that they will take action. Tell them to be specific.
  • Have members of the audience turn to the person next to them and complete these sentences:

I am excited about attempting to do (your topic) because…” I am concerned about attempting to do (your topic) because….”

Team leaders can report back the results to the group.




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