25 Ideas for Engagement in your Next Presentation

In the whole history of the world, there has never been a presenter who has been able to see whether his or her audience knows something, understands something or recognizes something. A piece of friendly advice as you begin mapping out the goal(s) for your next presentation: don’t go into your next presentation wanting your audience to know or understand or recognize something. You’ll never be able to see if you’ve accomplished your goal. It will be very unfulfilling for you.

Of course, you will be able to observe if your audience can describe something. Or create something. Or demonstrate something. Or compare and contrast various somethings. And when you give your audience an opportunity to describe or create or demonstrate or compare and contrast, they not only have to pay attention to what you’re saying, but they have to use what you’re saying to them. Which is an essential component to your audience being able to remember what you’ve said because, as the saying goes, if they don’t use what you’ve said or taught them, they’ll lose it.

Following are 25 suggestions on how to engage your audience. It’s influenced by Bloom’s Taxonomy, but I’ll save you all the technical teacher jargon and I’ll cut right to the ideas and activities that I hope you’ll find useful. I’ve broken this list into two categories: ideas to engage groups in shorter presentations (30 minutes or less) and ideas for longer presentations (an hour or more). I offer this breakdown because I’ve seen many facilitators (and I count myself among them) who routinely try to jam too many things into shorter presentations.

For shorter presentations, allow time for your attendees to:

List

Describe

Discuss

Write

Brainstorm

Ask questions about

Summarize

Restate

Draw

Opine about

Compare/contrast

Explain how the information you shared will impact their job

For longer presentations, challenge your attendees to:

Create

Design

Build

Develop

Evaluate

Provide peer feedback

Role play

Coach

Write a case study

Solve a problem (preferably a real-life problem)

Demonstrate

Play (who doesn’t like a good training board game or card game that aligns with the topic?)

Debate

What’s missing from these lists? Is there something you tend to do in order to engage your audience and ensure they “get it”? Add your thoughts to the comments section below.

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Why Learning Objectives are the Lifeblood of Engaging and Focused Training

Did you ever wish one of your work assignments would just write itself?  If one of your work assignments is to develop a training session, I may just be able to help you get that assignment to write itself.

Let’s say that you wanted to come up with a training session on customer service and communication skills.  And let’s examine two different ways to organize people’s thoughts around developing a training session.

Organize Your thoughts using PowerPoint

  • First Step: Open up PowerPoint
  • Second Step: Stare at the screen and wonder: “what should I teach people about customer service and communication skills?”
  • Third Step: Spend considerable amounts of time typing up slides with lots of text and information about what you think people need to know when it comes to customer service and communication skills

Method #1 is very conventional.  It follows a logical sequence and flow.  It often takes significant amounts of time to put together, and this development process can be painstaking as you try to decide just what you should present and how you should present it.

Unless the intended audience is dying to learn more about customer service and communication skills, they will probably grow bored at some point during this session. 

As a facilitator, you might expect that your audience will take copious notes and work on memorizing the information you have bestowed upon them, but the truth is that you have very little in the way of being able to assess whether or not they get it.  Which is a bummer because you put a lot of time and effort into it.

Method #2: Spend 20 minutes outlining specific learning objectives

  • First Step: Open up a blank Word document, or PowerPoint or best of all open up a lesson plan template
  • Second Step: Finish this sentence: “By the end of this session, my learners will be able to…” (hint: the next word should be an action-oriented, observable verb such as “demonstrate” or “explain” or “compare” or “assess”; it should never be a verb that you, as the facilitator, cannot see or observe such as “know” or “understand”)
  • Third Step: Repeat step #2 two or three or four more times (depending on how much time you have and whether you want to go broad or deep when it comes to your topic)
  • Fourth Step: Figure out how your learners will show you – during the lesson – what you wrote in steps #2 and #3 (for example, if your learners will be able to demonstrate an appropriate email response to a customer complaint, then you ought to have an activity in your lesson during which your learners will be asked to actually write out an email      and then receive feedback on whether or not it meets the threshold of “an appropriate email response”); once you have well-crafted learning objectives, developing your lesson becomes as easy as doing a paint-by-number project!

Why Learning Objectives?

Method #2 is a strategy is a strategy often used by school teachers and not used enough by presenters in the business world (nor is it used enough by college professors!).  Spend 20 minutes on crafting learner-centric, action-oriented, observable learning objectives, and your lesson plan basically writes itself!

What are your thoughts on why learning objectives make a difference in training sessions and meetings?

“What would have made that webinar better?”

Recently, a doctor asked me for some feedback on a webinar I had observed.  I started to rattle off some suggestions.  Then I had to stop myself.  It’s true that more interaction would clearly have made the webinar more engaging – use of polling features or the chat function or simply posing questions to the audience and having them respond verbally or maybe even throwing in a few breakout room discussions.  (Click here for a related post on strategies to engage learners during a webinar.)

But none of these suggestions felt right.

Then I realized I was doing a poor job of answering his question.  Honestly, I couldn’t answer his question without one key piece of information: what were the original learning objectives for the webinar?  It was never clear to me what the learners were supposed to be able to do differently as a result of the webinar.

It dawned on me that the answer to this doctor’s question was: better-crafted learning objectives would have made the webinar better.

What is a well-crafted learner objective?  A well-crafted learner objective finishes this sentence: by the end of this webinar, my learners will be able to

If his learners should be able to explain the key differences between the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) IV and the DSM V, then there should have been some type of activity in which participants were challenged to explain these differences.

Well-crafted learning objectives are essential to a well-crafted and engaging learning experience – whether it’s a webinar, instructor-led classroom training or even an elearning module.  Without identifying what learners should be able to do differently, it’s tough (impossible?) to design and deliver a tight, targeted, engaging learning experience.

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