The Art of Audience Engagement

By: Lou QuintoLeadership Speaker & Executive Coach, Executive Development Associates, Inc.  

The Art of Audience EngagementI’ve sat through literally hundreds of presentations. I know what you’re thinking: nobody should have to endure hundreds of business presentations in one lifetime. But alas, I have. Through all of them, I’ve observed that most presenters miss a great opportunity to ensure that the last impression or message with which their audience leaves is theirs. Instead, most presenters make the mistake by ending their presentation with the phrase, “Are there any questions?” 

If I may, let me scream – “WRONG!” 

Let me offer some advice: NEVER end a presentation with questions. If you do, you’re leaving too much to chance. You’re allowing someone in your audience with an alternative or opposite point of view to hijack your presentation by challenging your position during what you assumed would be a harmless Q&A session. 

I’ve seen great presentations die painful deaths during a question and answer session. Time after time, I have seen leaders deliver convincing presentations. The engagement signals are there. People in the audience are nodding their heads in agreement. They’re smiling and whispering to people next to them. Seeing this, the leader brings the presentation to a moving crescendo with a well-prepared conclusion. Then, while basking in all of the positive signs and body language, the leader does the unthinkablby asking, “Are there any questions?”

Instantly, one or two people in the audience who have serious objections – or who favor an opposing view – see the opportunity and pounce with negative comments disguised as questions. The presenter is now back-peddling with unrehearsed and unprepared answers. Suddenly, the other people, who had bought in just minutes earlier, are scratching their heads and thinking maybe this isn’t the perfect answer to satisfy their need. Suddenly, the presenter is looking in his or her rear-view mirror at the great presentation that slipped off course. 

How can this be prevented in the future? 

Actually, it’s very easy. Call for questions BEFORE you make the concluding remarks you spent time preparing. This way, the last thing that your audience hears is what you want them to remember. 

It is a simple and proven technique that professional speakers employ. Before concluding, simply ask, “Now, BEFORE I conclude, are there any questions?”

At that point, take questions. Then, when there are no more questions, say, “OK, if there are no more questions, let me conclude by reminding you….” Then, launch into your well-prepared, well-rehearsed, deal-solidifying, concise conclusion that reviews your presentation’s finer points and its strategic competitive advantage.

It’s a proven fact that people tend to remember the last thing they hear. Take advantage of this knowledge. Rethink your next presentation and wrap it up with a well-prepared (and well-practiced) memorable conclusion. By doing this, you are helping to ensure that your audience will remember YOUR message and not the message of someone who may want to see you fail. 

This technique works well, not only in a sales presentation but in any presentation where your goal is to convey an important and convincing message. So, at your next presentation try this technique. It will help to distinguish you as a polished veteran presenter, thus adding to your credibility and increasing your chance to succeed. 

About the Author: 

Lou Quinto has over 20 years of experience in employee development, management training, executive coaching, and consulting with expertise in teaching managerial skills, critical thinking skills, professional presentation skills, and motivational speaking. His style of training and consulting is described by clients as engaging, motivating, and productive, making him a popular choice for conducting seminars, management retreats, and executive coaching sessions. Lou is a graduate of Purdue University and resides in Indianapolis, IN.