Four ways to engage an audience


We all know that a presentation will have the greatest impact if the audience is engaged.  Typically there are four ways a presenter can connect with and engage the audience.

  1. Aurally: what they hear

How an audience hears a presenter can be as important as what they hear.  How does the presenter sound – excited or neutral? How is the message phrased? Do you use acronyms and jargon that the audience doesn’t know? These are just three aural examples which affect the audience connection.

  1. Visually: what they see

We humans are sensitive to what we see.  A presenter’s visuals should be simple, attractive and appropriate to the topic AND also appropriate for the audience. Traditional bullet lists on slides almost never meet these criteria, in fact they can disengage the audience from a presenter.

  1. Emotionally: arousing/transferring emotion

People are emotionally driven; we make decisions emotionally, we communicate emotionally.  A presenter must transfer their own excitement, concern, and passion to the audience.  One of the most powerful way to do this is through stories – share appropriate stories.  Have a conversation with the audience, as many great presenter do, talk with them not at them.

  1. Intellectually: rational logical information

While people are emotional they also need facts, figures, and logic to make sense of the world. Only use facts and arguments that will resonate with the specific audience, and avoid anything that isn’t directly related.

Paying attention to what/how the audience hears, what they see, how they feel, and what they think will provide for an optimal presentation experience with maximum impact.

Joe Pops




Removing the bricks in the wall: Connecting with your audience.

The wall


Connecting with an audience, having a conversation with them, is not easy – especially if it is a large audience. One thing you can do is to remove the barriers, “the bricks in the wall”, which stand between you and them. Much like a tall center piece makes it difficult to have a conversation with a person across the dining table, physical elements in a meeting room can act like center pieces, like walls, and make it hard to connect with your audience.  Examples of these physical barriers include podiums, tables and distance from the audience.

A while ago I did a presentation in a room that had some “bricks” between the speaker and the audience. My routine pre-presentation check of my slides, videos, and audio went well, but the physical setup of the room was challenging. Anywhere I stood on the stage there was a physical barrier between myself and part of the audience.

Podiums (see the picture above) are particular bad for most speakers, including me; they create a wall. If you are very tall perhaps you may get away with it, but the vast majority of speakers get lost to the audience when they are behind a podium. When I asked the hotel about changing the set up of the room their response was “no”, they really couldn’t. The podium and cables were secured to the stage and they couldn’t move the tables.

They did however provide me with a wireless microphone. This enabled me to stand in the best place I could think of – the floor in front of the stage, which is where I presented from. You need to be seen to be truly “heard” and figuring this out should be part of your preparation. Sometimes you have few options, but as presenters we need to consider how to ensure a connection with the audience.

There can be physical “bricks” that create a wall between you and your audience, make the effort to get rid of as many of them as you can.

Joe Pops



My wife and editor decided to buy this center piece because it was decorative, low and unobtrusive.

centre piece

For example…What can happen when your example isn’t real?

for example

In January of this year I attended a large corporate conference. At this event I heard one of the best inspirational speakers I have ever experienced (more on that later) as well as some less than inspirational (boring) presentations. Conferences are like that.

One presentation had an interesting “for example” moment. I am normally a big fan of using examples during presentations, but this time it bothered me. It took me awhile to figure it out what wasn’t right…and then it finally hit me. The example wasn’t real.

The speaker used a “for example” situation that was hypothetical. It was made up to support the point he was making, but it didn’t fit the real world. It was something I have never experienced in the many years I have been doing my day job.

As a speaker you have to be careful to choose real examples/experiences that will resonate with the audience. The speaker lost credibility with me when he used the unreal example. The word authenticity is used to today when talking about presentations – you want “an authentic audience experience”. The example wasn’t authentic.

The phrase “for example” paints a picture of a future state for your audience, but that picture must be believable and resonate with them. If you use a “for example this could happen” you had better know your audience very well, otherwise you could have just created an “inauthentic” moment and lost your credibility.

Joe Pops