How to Engage Your Audience

Make Them ONE
In the beginning of your presentation or indeed any performance, the audience are all individuals with their own thoughts and feelings.
“I don’t like the colour of that backdrop”
“On no! I’m sitting behind a tall person”
“The journey here was horrendous…”
“These chairs are uncomfortable, I can’t sit in it for three hours!”
Your job, as a playwright, singer or speaker is to make them into one mind and heart. You should know what the audience will thinking and feeling at any given moment in your presentation.
How? Because you’ve taken them there with you.

First Impression

What influences the audience’s first impression of you? Your first entrance is all important. Any new arrival on the stage is of fresh interest to the audience. So compose yourself before you come on. Much more about that later.

The Opposite of Boredom

At this point I want to emphasis the importance of engaging your audience. Too many presenters, even playwrights, make the mistake of assuming that once the audience have consented to sit in front you, you can bore them to death, safe in the knowledge that very few will actually walk out. Beware. Although no-one decides to be boring it can easily be done. Maybe ‘bore’ is too strong a term, but it’s how I would describe an audience that is not engaged…

What does it mean to engage your audience? It means engaging either their minds or emotions at any given moment….

Mind vs Emotions

The mind moves fast, the emotions move much much slower. Think of how fast a comedy is played. A farce is the fastest, trousers drop and doors bang as quick as lightening. Whereas a thriller or romance contains more emotional suspense, therefore has moments which move much more slowly. Have you ever held your breathe, while the seconds ticked by, willing the heroine not to turn that doorknob?

Comedies engage the mind, so keep the pace up, the audience simply grasps the idea and moves on quickly…. and if the action doesn’t keep up they’ll leave with an impression of having sat through a ‘long, drawn-out’ performance regardless of how long, or short, it actually was. Have you ever watched a 2-hour play and the time seemed to fly past? Or sat through a half hour speech that just seemed to last forever? If you were not engaged then the time will seem long.

A few years ago in the USA a friend of mine, Mansukh Patel, was offered a 5 minute slot as a speaker in a conference. He had to make an impact in that short a time and what he did was the work of a master. He started his presentation (to an entirely new audience of 900 people) by simply looking at them for a full 2 minutes! He just walked onto the stage and started scanning all their faces. He then spoke. Unhurriedly. By the end of the five minutes, the audience were absolutely enthralled… and wouldn’t let him off the stage! I wouldn’t recommend this to an inexperienced speaker, it would take a massive amount of Stage Presence to pull something like that off to an audience that didn’t know you at all. Although I believe even Billy Connolly’s greatest fans wouldn’t really appreciate him looking at them for the opening two minutes of a five minute sketch. 

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