Audience Participation

Creating Audience Engagement Through Participation

The most popular speakers are those who entertain their audience – but entertainment doesn’t have to be through stand up comedy. As long as you’re interesting and engaging, your audience will be entertained.

One of the best ways to add interest and engage an audience is to create audience participation. This helps the audience to feel involved and so increases their attention levels, their enjoyment and also makes them more likely to remember your talk.
Whether you’re speaking on a stage or on a webinar, it’s easy to create participation.

On Stage

There are a variety of ways to create participation when speaking on a stage, or just in a room with a modest number of people.


The most obvious way to get the audience involved is to ask questions. You can ask rhetorical questions where you don’t expect an answer, but which get the audience thinking. Once they are thinking about a question you’ve posed, it’s difficult for them to think of something else, so they automatically become more engaged. You can also ask questions where you do want an answer, in which case, make it very clear and instruct your audience to provide you with an answer – and don’t continue until you get an answer or two.

If it’s a large auidence though, you’re less likely to get people shouting out unless they are very extrovert. To encourage answers, I’ve seen speakers throw sweets or other small gifts to those who answer questions – although your aim would have to be good!
A good way of getting responses is to ask your audience to raise their hands. This is great when you want to to create social proof and it also introduces compliance – getting your audience to do what you ask of them. Ask them simple, closed questions and get them to raise their hands for a yes answer. You can alsolead them by raising your own hand. Tip – most people naturally raise their right hands, so since you’re looking at them, if you raise your left hand, it encourages them to raise the hand on the same side – their right. I came across a hilarious video by Tim Hawkins on raising hands – take a look here.


On stage, it’s easy to get people involved in exercises. These can be short and simple – just getting them to stand up, shake their arms and legs around, high-five the person next to them and sit down again (useful as an energiser during a long conference), or you can set them exercises where they work in groups of two or three for a few minutes. This blog isn’t long enough to go into all the kinds of exercises you can use but I’m sure you will agree that exercises are useful for creating engagement and increasing the enjoyability and memorability of your talk.


Bringing a volunteer on stage massively increases attention – especially as your audience don’t know who you might pick next! And, of course, the person selected will probably be talking about the experience for days if not weeks. It’s always a good idea to reward your volunteer in some way – give them free access to one of your mid range products or programmes. This creates a great feeling of generosity and reciprocity, allows you a wonderful opportunity to up-sell to a high end programme. It’s also a great way of introducing your product and and creates ‘audience envy’ – they wish they had volunteered so they had it!


It’s even more important to create engagement on a webinar, as it’s so easy for your audience to get distracted on social media or click away and end the webinar at any time. The same engagement principles apply on webinars as speaking on stage.


Ask questions throughout to keep your audience with you.webinar hand

If you want to simulate getting your audience to raise their hands when running a webinar, you would ask your audience to click on a raise hands button (some webinar providers give this really useful feature) or, you can simply get them to type yes in the chat box. If you want an actual answer, you can also ask them to type their answers in the chat box. A tip here – give them enough time to think about the answer, locate the chat box and then type the answer in, remembering that not averyone can type quickly. This is where you need to get good at ad-libbing while you wait for the answers to show. The social proof is created when people can see a chat stream – otherwise you have to tell the audience that there are loads of yes answers coming in, or read out some of the answers that are given.


Polls are a great way to get people involved and you can use polls to create a quiz or a survey. People love filling out quizzes and polls are fun because you can immediately publish the results. Once again, when people are answering your survey or polls, they’re not surfing the web or doing something else.

Public chat

Another way of encouraging full participation is to encourage use of a public chat function. Some webinar platforms only allow chat between the delegate and the presenter but I find that if the participants can chat with each other, this encourages a greater feeling of belonging. I know some webinar hosts find chat off-putting but as long as you have put together a great presentation, you have nothing to fear. Chat between particpants creates a feeling of community and is likely to increase enjoyment and a feeling of social proof. Often the incentive of ‘meeting up’ with their new found friends encourages people to attend your next webinar.


You can also get people involved in your webinar in a similar way to how you would do this on stge. You can invite them into a Hangout based webinar so people can see them and they can share their screen or, in other platforms, you can simply unmute them and put them in the ‘hot seat’ for a few minutes. This is a very powerful way of increasing engagement for all.

Commit to Participation

So next time you put together a talk for the stage or a webinar, consider how you will use participation to increase audience engagement and stickability. This helps to raise your profile as a great speaker, an expert in your field and someone to take notice of and buy from.

To learn more about speaking skills, download my free E-Book Killer Presentations.  Download it here

Wishing you every success with your speaking and presenting.



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