3 Tools for Greater Interaction and a Deeper Connection

In this lesson, you will pick up 3 tools to keep your audiences on the edge of their seats using the fine, and sometimes scary, art of audience interaction. As a result, you will be able to interact in ways that will keep the energy high no matter how long your presentation lasts. The 3 tools are:

  1. Options for answers
  2. Discuss and debrief
  3. Audience Dialog

1. Options for Answers

You can best utilize this tool when you want to ask your audience a question that needs an actual (not rhetorical) response. Instead of asking everyone, you can walk out to one person, ask him the question, and then wait for his response. However, the key is to anticipate his response so that you will be ready with a handy comeback. Here’s an example from one of my speeches:

“Raise your hand if you have ever been an athlete [pause]. Raise your hand if you thought you were [pause for laughter].” [I walk out and address a single person in my audience] “What sport did you play?” If he says, “I played soccer,” I look at my entire audience and say, “Did anyone play any real sports?” This draws a huge laugh (especially from the person who gave the answer).

Then I say, “Don’t worry, whatever your response was, I was going to say that. So seriously let me ask you, did you ever visualize yourself on the field before you got out there?” If he says, “No,” I immediately say, “See, that’s why you’re no longer playing.” That draws a laugh. If he say “Yes,” which they normally do, I say, “And what did it do for you?” He goes on to describe the positive psychological effects that visualization had on his game. Afterwards, I can easily transition into my point about using that same visualization process to bring success into business, relationships, and life.

The key to the Options for Answers method of audience interaction is to anticipate what their answers will be and have a few options ready in response to those answers. For example, regardless of what sport they say they play, I have an option to use as a comeback. Then, regardless of whether they say yes or no to visualization, I have an option ready for the comeback. Anticipate their answers and plan responses. This gets much easier over time when you get more and more responses from your various audiences around the globe. You will rarely be caught off-guard.

Why Does It Work?

This works extremely well for me and it will for you too. Why is it worth doing and why will it do wonders for your speech? These 3 reasons are just the tip of the iceberg.

a.                   Even though you physically walk out into the audience, the audience mentally comes to you. This is because they temporarily live vicariously through this one person. Therefore, even though you talk to a singular audience member, the rest of the audience thinks about what their own responses would be if they were asked. This way, you continue to draw them in.

b.                  It raises their energy due to the group dynamics of you going into the audience combined with the laughter that occurs with the back and forth conversation you have with your audience member.

c.                   It makes someone else the star of your speech.

Be careful How You Do This

However, it is very important to build enough trust with your audience so they know you are on their side and you are only kidding around with your responses. Therefore, this is not something you should do towards the beginning of your speech. Wait until later.

Another key is to only choose people who seem to be good sports. Usually you can tell because they are the first to raise their hands and offer themselves up as volunteers. Then, it is in good taste to offer them something as a reward for diving into the unknown with you. I usually give an audio CD or something else that is valuable. Again, be playful but not cruel. There is a fine line between having fun and making fun of someone. As long as it is playful, it will work wonders and the person you chose will really appreciate you for giving them that experience.

Using the Options for Answers tool is great if you are not afraid to stray from a fixed script and you are courageous enough to physically go out into the middle of your audience. I strongly suggest that you use this tool somewhere within any speeches you give that exceed 30 minutes.

Your preparation for the Options for Answers is four-fold

1.                  Think about what questions you can step out into your audience and ask to one individual

2.                  Write down the answers you are likely to get

3.                  Write down what your response will be for each of those answers

4.                  Scope out people who look like they want to be involved in your speech. They are usually pretty easy to find but it does require you to watch your watchers.

2. Discuss and Debrief

If you want to quickly raise the energy of your audience, get them to remember and buy into your message, and break the monotony of you simply standing there speaking, use the Discuss and Debrief method. Most speakers ask their entire audience questions like, “What are some important factors to successfully undergoing change in your organization?” Chances are the audience will initially struggle to respond and the speaker will face an awkward silence.

The solution is to give them oil by loosening up their minds in the following way: “For 45 seconds, I want you to turn and talk to two neighbors of yours and discuss what you feel are some of the most important factors to undergo a successful change in your organization. You have 45 seconds. Ready? Go.” This is the Discuss part of the Discuss and Debrief method.

Immediately the energy rises as bodies move and people start communicating. The modality changes from you speaking to them speaking, thinking, and listening to each other. Remember, your audience wants to be heard too and this is a great way to accomplish that. Finally, after the 45 seconds are up, you say something like the following: “Okay, please turn back around up front. Let’s hear what you had to say. What are some of the most important factors for having a successful change?”

At that point, it might even surprise you how rapidly and effortlessly they shoot out responses. This is because they have loosened up their minds. They have gone from listening mode (when they listened to you) to thinking mode and their responses will most likely align with your point. Therein lies the genius of this method. If you get them to say it, rather than simply saying it yourself, they end up buying into your message much more fully and quickly. Plus, they have fun doing so. This is the Debrief part of the Discuss and Debrief method.

Why Does this Work? These are 4 Reasons to use This Method

  1. It loosens up their minds so they can easily give answers during the Debrief section
  2. It breaks up the speech and changes the modality
  3. It facilitates movement into a more kinesthetic experience, which is how some people learn best
  4. It raises their energy

3. Giving Your Audience Dialog

Now that you have the Options for Answers and the Discuss and Debrief tools, it is time to pick up one of my all-time favorites. Many speakers do not usually think of this next tool as interaction but it absolutely is because you actually interact with the audience members’ minds and you cannot get much closer to them than that. I call it giving the audience dialog.

You might have heard me say that the heart of a story is dialog, because dialog pumps life into it. However, have you ever thought of the following point?

Your audience is a character

That is correct, your audience is a character in your story.  Therefore, from time to time, you should give them dialog. Here is an example of how I do this in the middle of an activity:

I say to my entire audience, “I want you right now to stand up and change 12 things about your own appearance.” Then I walk over to one person and say, “Janet, you are looking at me as if to say, ‘But Craig, I don’t have 12 things on! I did not know it was that kind of workshop.'” That gets a big laugh.

Remember, she does not physically say it; I give her the dialog. In other words, I say it as if she is saying it to me. Here are some other lines I use when giving the audience dialog:

  • “Your looking at me like, ‘Come on Craig, what do you know about stepping on a scale; you’re built like a greek statue.'”
  • “At what point did you get intrigued by that story? [I then look at one person]. You’ve got that look like, ‘Who said I was intrigued?'”

Here is the key that you absolutely must remember in order to make this work:

If they think it, you say it.

I usually give my audience dialog at least 4 times during a 45-minute speech. Here are 3 steps to making this work:

Step 1: Anticipate what the audience is thinking

Step 2: Tell the audience what they are thinking

Step 3: Feel free to exaggerate what they are thinking (i.e. “I didn’t know it was that kind of workshop!”)

Three things will happen when you tell your audience what they think and use their own dialog to do it.

1.                  You will make them laugh

2.                  You will make them think

3.                  You will deepen your connection with them. Why? Because they will think, “Wow, he is reading my mind!” That gets you closer and closer to them and it feels great.

Final Thoughts

You just picked up 3 tools for greater interaction for a greater connection. Options for Answers; Discuss and Debrief; and Audience dialog. Now, speaking of audience dialog, I will give you the last word. Hopefully you are saying, “Craig, I can use these tools in my very next speech!”

Craig Valentine

As a motivational speaker I've been fortunate to have spoken in over 20 countries, and back in 1999 Toastmasters International awarded me the World Champion of Public Speaking.

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