Get Your Audience on Their Feet

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At a conference, your audience will usually sit for most of the day. So, understandably, they may become sleepy and have trouble following your talk. Have you considered adding some short physical exercise to your presentation, to make them wake up?

Interacting with your audience can mean a lot of different things. You could ask them a question and to shout out the answer or to use hand signs. Or you can make them do short exercises, in groups or on their own. But all of those interactions are usually done sitting down. Consider an activity where they have to stand up and move.

Now, this isn't for every audience or every conference. But then again, if you surprise your audience with that activity, it can add a memorable moment to your presentation.

A simple exercise that works best for a very diverse audience is to ask them to introduce themselves to their neighbour and answer two simple questions: What do you do? and Why are you here?

If you think such an exercise can only be done with small audiences - think again. Since people will only talk to their immediate neighbours, it doesn't really matter how many people are in the room. A good example that I experienced is when Garr Reynolds did this at the Creativity World Forum 2011 in Hasselt - with 2500 people in the room.

Speakers are often hesitant to add exercises to their talks since it means that they relinquish control of the audience. They are afraid of getting it back. Don't worry. As the speaker and the person up on the stage, you have authority and will usually get control back easily. Just make sure to leave a little room in your schedule. If you plan the exercise to take 5 minutes, make sure you have a little more time than that for things to settle down.

When is the best time for such an activity? The best time for the introduction exercise would obviously be near the beginning of your talk, probably as the very first thing, before you go any deeper into your topic. That activity works best if your audience has been sitting for a while already, e.g. when you're one of several speakers in a row. If the audience just arrived in the room before your talk, then they had some exercise already and you may instead want to have an activity somewhere near the middle of your talk, especially if it's a longer one (like the usual 1-hour presentation). Or maybe just leave it out entirely and go with an exercise that can be done sitting down.

As always, consider what is best for your audience.

Garr Reynolds doing the introduction exercise at the Creativity World Forum 2011.

(Video by Flanders DC, photo by yours truly)

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Creative Commons Licence "Get Your Audience on Their Feet" by Dirk Haun is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.