Presentation Skills Training:
Audience involvement
in a presentation

An effective tool in public speaking is getting the audience to contribute information. Speakers often hesitate to do this because of the risk that is involved. Once you open your speech to audience participation, you can never really predict what will happen, yet it helps to keep the audience attentive and remembering key principles in your talk. Active audience involvement is always worth the risk if you use the right techniques. Here are some ways of successfully involving the audience.

Ask questions to which you really want answers.. Make it clear by nodding your head and raising your hand that you want a response when you ask the questions. Ask a specific question to which you know the answer, thus keeping the audience on the topic. For example, I know that listening is the most frequently used skill out of speaking, writing, listening, and reading, so I ask, "Which of the following do we use most frequently--speaking, writing, listening, or reading?" I know the right answer and can use audience responses to stress my topic of listening. Audience involvement helps me make my point with little risk. Unless there is no wrong answer to the question, be careful about open-ended questions in a speech because you may get off topic and get answers that are hard to deal with.

Have the audience repeat something in your speech. In showing the value of vocal variety in speaking, I have volunteers speak a sentence such as, "That is the ugliest dog I have ever seen." Having three or four different people say the sentence, emphasizing a different word in the sentence each time, helps illustrate the point and also helps the audience be more attentive to that section of the speech.

Include an activity that all audience members can do together. Let's say you are talking about effective use of email. Have the audience pair off and ask them to share with a partner one frustrating thing about their use of email. Then ask for volunteers to share those frustrations. You are assuring specific answers because they have already practiced their responses with partners. Since everyone is doing this together you will have good attention and an informal atmosphere for discussion that you can use to make your point about good ways to use this important medium.

Finally, give a simple true/false or multiple-choice set of questions. Perhaps during your introduction you could present five statements about your topic, having your audience write true or false for each statement that you give. You can make the statements to dramatically illustrate the point you will make in your speech. With listening, I might have as my opening statement, "Communication is the responsibility of the talker, not the listener," or "Listening is a passive activity." Both are false, and I could use their answers to help show how important good listening is. You could also do this at the end, covering the content you've presented.

Used carefully and with planning, audience involvement can add much to your speech with little risk. People will leave with more content when they have helped provide it to the speaker and the group.


About the auther

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is a professor of speech communication at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Kentucky. He works with organizations that want to speak and listen more effectively to increase personal and professional performance. He can be reached at 800-727-6520 or visit

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