When a presenter tries using a pick-up line on the audience…

A friend of mine was sharing her experiences recently on a dating site. She had met an international man of mystery – Tomas – on a site. He seemed good looking enough and successful. Tomas was Portuguese and apparently made his money by doing something with gold bars and China.

And then on his most recent trip, Tomas got stuck in China and couldn’t get his gold bars out, unless…

“I’m stuck in China, they won’t release my gold unless I pay them $5,800. Do you think you can help me out?” is what the email said.

Whether it’s a Nigerian prince or Tomas the Dating Site Guy, smooth talkers abound, and not just in the world of online dating. I’ve seen it too often in the world of training and presentations, too.

Perhaps the biggest offender is a variation on this line: “I really want today’s presentation to be highly interactive, so be sure to ask lots of questions.”

Giving the speaker the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they are sincere in their desire for an interactive session (who wants people to just sit like lumps?), but there is a lot wrong with this sort of statement. It may be a declaration designed to invite people to participate, but here are several reasons why I think this is one of the sleeziest openers in the business:

1. Not all presentations need to be interactive.

This may seem blasphemous to readers of Train Like A Champion, but the truth is that there is a difference (perhaps a 3-way Venn Diagram) between “interactive”, “engaging” and “effective”.

In shorter presentations, it is particularly difficult to integrate good content and interaction. That doesn’t mean shorter presentations (or any other presentations) shouldn’t be engaging and effective. If you have a 10-15 minute report-out in a meeting or if you’re presenting to busy executives, you may need to focus your time on your message without worrying about interaction or questions (questions can always be emailed later or addressed with individuals after the meeting).

I worked for an eye bank and our staff needed to squeeze a 15-minute presentation on organ donation into an otherwise packed day of new hire orientation for nurses. Relying on compelling stories, powerful imagery and a final call to action, our staff were able to deliver engaging and effective presentations.

2. If you “really want” interaction, design for it.

Herein lies the biggest issue I have with this seemingly innocuous statement: anyone who claims they really want a presentation to be interactive so be sure to ask lots of questions is putting the onus of interaction squarely on the shoulders of the participants. If the audience doesn’t do its duty in asking (lots of) questions, then it turns into one person talking – there is no interaction (and probably very little engagement or hope for something to happen after the presentation).

Does designing for interaction take a little extra work? Yes it does. And it needs to be done in a way that suits the natural delivery of the presenter.

If you’re looking for some ideas to help design for real, meaningful interaction, here are some places that can help:


Want to put together an interactive, engaging, effective training outline (including activities and slides) in less than five minutes? Try out our new rapid authoring tool for classroom training – Soapbox! (It’s free, and it’s in beta so you can give us all sorts of feedback to make it even better!)

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