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Interacting with your audience

Interacting with your audience is a great way to keep them engaged, here are some top tips for where to start.
Children in a workshop
© Royal Observatory Greenwich
Interacting with your audience can be a fantastic way to inject some energy into your presenting and judge how your presentation is being received. This needs to be done with care though, here are some top tips to keep in mind.
You are in control
Be bold and confident. This is your presentation and it is down to you to get the audience through the session delivering the aims you have in your sights.
Questions
As previously discussed, this is a great way to get immediate feedback from your audience and also check that they are understanding. However, if you ask too many questions your audience can become tired of them and feel bombarded. It isn’t a good idea to rely on them alone to push the narrative along but rather pepper them throughout to drive the pace when needed.
Occasionally people want to show how much knowledge they have and ask questions that are very difficult/impossible. This is often by excited children who just want to share information with you that they think is fascinating, however, it can also be from people wanting to publicly show how much they know. It is fine to say you don’t know the answer or that maybe you would like to hear more from them afterwards.
If you work with children they can sometimes ask questions that aren’t really questions, more of statements. As a presenter I would recommend taking these in a positive light. That child has connected with you and wants to share, that is great, they just need to know when is the right time to do that.
Shouting out
You may think this is an issue just for children but it most definitely is not. As long as you are clear what you expect of your audience you can usually avoid issues though. If you want an individual to answer you can front load your question with ‘hands up who can tell me’. If you want your audience to shout out tell them otherwise, how would they know to do it? Be advised though, as soon as you do that you have given them a license to shout throughout the rest of the session. It can then be tricky to get things back under control so shouting out is sometimes better left until the last quarter of a session.
Unwanted responses
These can come in many forms from teenagers joking around and giving irrelevant answers to your audience not understanding what you want from them and therefore not giving the answer you want. If you want to include questions, be prepared for the fact that you may not get the response you want and think about how you might deal with that.
Volunteers
Volunteers are a brilliant way to help your audience feel included and special. Choosing a volunteer is an art form though. If you are working with schools it is a nice idea to ask the teachers to help choose a volunteer. They will know their children the best and there may be someone who has had a particular great week at school so they want to reward them with a volunteering experience that you are unaware of. Including teachers also means that you avoid a lot of potentially tricky situations like: accidentally always choosing children from the same class, choosing children that would actually hate the experience of standing in front of their class or children that are too young to help you with the task you need.
Volunteers can be incredibly helpful but they can also destroy a demonstration and take a session completely off track if used incorrectly. It is helpful for them to assist you with low-risk aspects of a task rather than any tricky bits that need a specific skill. That way you are able to keep control of the activity as the presenter, all goes smoothly and everyone is happy.

How do you interact with your audience?

© Royal Observatory Greenwich
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