Audiences are no longer willing to sit quietly and listen to a speaker talk at them, no matter how good the information is. Technology can help engage the crowd and make their participation an integral part of your presentation.

“Audience engagement at presentations is past being a trend,” says Cheryl Cran, an author and a speaker in the field of integrating communications, technology, and human potential. "It’s what’s happening now."

Here are a few ways you can add some punch to your presentation.

Venues at most big organizations already are outfitted with interactive audience technology that enables a speaker to survey the audience and lets the audience indicate their reactions and responses to the presentation via wireless keypad or smartphone. Be sure to ask what technology is available to you, become familiar with it, and build its use into your presentation.

In addition to (or in lieu of) a high-end system, there also are plug-ins for PowerPoint (PowerPoint Twitter Tools) and Keynote (Keynote Tweet) that enable you to embed a Twitter feed into your presentation that enables the audience to react to the presentation in real time. Set up Tweetchat and provide everyone with a hashtag then watch the comments roll. Tweetchat also enables you (or an assistant) to curate tweets, so that you can control what appears on the screen.

Presentations should be highly polished and much more than a list of bullet points. Keynote offers a lot of flexibility in terms of templates and eases the process of incorporating multimedia elements, such as video and graphics. And there’s even an application for the iPhone that enables you to use it to advance your slides.

Before Cheryl goes on stage, she often mingles with attendees, a small video camera close at hand. (She recommends a Kodak HD, which has a powerful onboard microphone.) Cheryl does video interviews with several attendees, polling them about what their issues are and what they’re hoping to get out of her session. She then uses those vignettes in her opening to set the stage and encourage engagement during the presentation. “Most people are happy to be filmed, but how much they’re willing to say does depend quite a bit on the culture,” says Cheryl. She suggests that learn about the organization you’re slated to speak to before you get to the venue, so you have a sense of what will fly.

Some of her colleagues run their presentations from an iPad and that it’s definitely an option. Doing this, however, requires you to upload the presentation to iDisk. To ensure you can get to the presentation when the time comes, make sure you have a 3G-enabled device---because if there is no Internet at the venue or the signal is poor, you won't have a presentation!

It’s not all about the gadgets, however. Cheryl emphasizes, “You can have the coolest technology around but if you’re not prepared, nothing will save you. Competition for speaking slots is fierce. Conference directors expect you to do your homework and to fully customize your presentations for their audiences. Customization has become the standard---even for celebrity speakers.”

The good news is you can use technology to get ready as well. As she studies each organization, Cheryl often sends out short web-based surveys using Survey Monkey to test for perceptions and expectations.

With audience attention spans averaging around nine seconds, speakers who want their messages to connect need to involve their audiences in the process. The right technology can enable audiences to provide added dimension to your presentation, create synergy, and increase the impact of your presentation.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Helena Bouchez is principal and owner of Helena B Communications (www.helenabcommunications.com). Reach her via helena@helenabcommunications.com or follow her on Twitter (@HelenaBouchez).