Audience Participation in Business Presentations Inspires the Senses

presentation skills

Communication has changed. My dad grew up listening to radio. The family would gather around and sit attentively as the radio broadcast news, variety shows, and serials. I grew up with television. Not only did I have something to listen to, but my eyes were involved as well. My kids grew up with Atari; a simple video game system that involved the ears, eyes and simple hand movements. My grand-kids have interactive games that include all the senses (with maybe the exception of smell). The point is it takes more to get reception than it did in generations past. To make sure our message is heard and remembered when we design business presentations, we must involve more of the total person than just the ears. Our senses are daily bombarded with myriads of impressions. If we are going to give presentations that make an impact and are memorable we must use very sense available to impact our audience.

Audience Participation Inspires the Senses: Touch

Inspires the Senses TouchSpeaking to a group of people about how easily we let things slip through our grasp, I handed out hotel-sized bars of soap and had them write the three main points on the outside wrapper. Those little soaps are hard to hold onto and slip though the grasp very easily. The small bars of soap made an easy and memorable illustration; it also gave the participants something other than paper to use, feel, and even smell. Writing on and holding on to the little soaps helped them pay attention and reinforced the learning. It is also something more likely to be kept and pondered than notes on a piece of paper.

The more senses we can get involved into our presentations the more enjoyable and memorable they will be. As we are speaking if we can put something in their hands that can reinforce the message we will also be successful in getting it into their heads. The small bars of soap mentioned above were easily accessible at a local hotel chain that was more than happy to donate them to the assembly.

Too often we think our passion will be enough. If we can create some excitement and enthusiasm with our voice and gestures it will be contagious and will connect. Although that can be true, to engage as many senses as possible will help us create a more long-lasting impression, one in which the content, not just the presentation or presenter, will be remembered. When we have crafted a presentation only a little more thought will help us tap into a innovative way to help the audience connect to the message and remember its key points.

When speaking on the power of communication to do damage, I handed out tongue depressors for the title and ideas to be written on. Years later someone showed me their tongue depressor and commented on how much it had meant and that they continued to carry it with them in an effort to be careful how they talked to and about people.

The next time you prepare a presentation be creative and think of an object you can put in the peoples hands that will carry your message from their hands to their imaginations.

Audience Participation Inspires the Senses: Taste

Inspires the Senses TasteA great meal is a great memory. I can’t remember every meal I’ve eaten (although I carry the evidence), but I can remember certain times that were outstanding. A good public presentation is that way, it is memorable- like a great taste that lingers in the mind long after the palate has moved on to something else. When preparing a presentation it is a good idea to consider taste and how you can get it involved into your presentation. Consider your next presentation, what taste comes to mind? That may sound like a silly question, but if the material you are presenting is important and you want your audience to remember it, involve as many senses as possible. Taste may seem like a difficult consideration, but if you think about it and let your creativity guide you, it may be possible to add something that will make your presentation a very memorable experience.

Speaking to a group on the powers of refreshing friendships I had volunteers pass out small glasses of ice water. Another time speaking on the idiosyncrasies of the group I was presenting to, I passed out small glasses of 7-Up (at that time the “Uncola”). On another occasion, speaking on the need of refreshment and renewal (on a very hot summer day) I passed out Dixie Cups of ice cream. Each time there was a very welcomed reception of the refreshments, but I was also able to use the “taste” of the experience as dramatic illustration of the subject matter. People became more engaged in the presentation than if I had only used words and descriptions. Having the illustration in their hands (and literally their mouths) made the message come alive and offered a greater engagement of the audience with the point of the presentation.

Taste is a very powerful sense that can also create and/or recall emotions. By doing so people connect to your message at a deeper level than just the spoken communication. When taste is used to reinforce the verbal a clear connection and more memorable experience is likely. Think of the difference your presentation will make if you simply, creatively come up with a taste experience for your audience to share. When you tell a story, give an anecdote, make a demonstration and then add an element that is not expected- giving them something to taste, not just think about, or touch, but actually taste… imagine the impact.

When preparing your presentation, does a specific taste come to mind? How can you incorporate that into your presentation? Can you use that in a clever and innovative way to reinforce the message? Don’t be afraid to try new things, new ways. Your creativity may set you and your message apart and impact your audience. You may be able to take your material from their mouth to their imaginations.

Audience Participation Inspires the Senses: Smell

Inspires the Senses SmellI was working outside the other morning and the air was fresh and blowing. The smell of rain was drifting about and it made me want to close my eyes and just breathe deeply. I don’t often contemplate the olfactory sense, but it is an important part of our life experience. Haven’t you ever been traveling down a country road and been smacked in the face by the pungent smell of a skunk? Or maybe you’ve had the opposite experience of waking up in the morning to the smell of bacon sizzling on a griddle. We wrinkle our nose and turn away from the irritating smell of vinegar, while breathing deeply and soaking in every last whisper of aroma as we drive past our favorite coffee stop.

Unfortunately when we think of presentations we usually don’t think about the sense of smell. Well, unless it is an ungracious comment after we are done. But smell is one of the five senses we have that help us understand and make sense of the world. It can also be a powerful tool in making presentations more meaningful and the lessons last longer.

I was once speaking on the power of looking forward. It was the dead of winter in Minnesota and the thoughts of the coming spring was a thought everyone could easily relish. I planted several “spring scented” candles inconspicuously around the venue and had them lit as I began the presentation. As I talked about the power of looking forward, and illustrated it with the desire for spring, it was as if the people could actually smell spring coming, in fact they could! The minds desire for the next season, along with the fragrant aroma of its coming, made a powerful impact on the audience and made the message more clear and applicable to their situations. By involving another sense they were lifted to a greater plane of understanding and application.

Our sense of smell is one that makes connections. How many times have you been driving somewhere, or walking along a street, taken a deep breath and remarked, “That smells like…” and made a connection to a certain memory or experience? Whenever I smell fresh baked bread I am transported back to my childhood memories of Sunday morning, driving to church in our 1956 Chevy, and passing the Wonder Bread Bakery. If we can creatively involve the sense of smell in a presentation we have helped our audience make an immediate connection to a memory or experience, or even better, we created a new memory or experience for them through the creativity of our presentation message.

There is a verse in the Bible that talks of the prayers of the saints as being a sweet smelling aroma. When presenting on that perspective of our prayers before God, I had several “sweet smelling’ candles lit so that the aroma would be clear to everyone’s noses. This simple illustration made an immediate impact and lasting impression on the audience and the power of their prayers from God’s perspective.

When you have prepared your next presentation ask yourself if there is a way to incorporate the sense of smell to your audience into your presentation experience? It may get the message out from under their noses and into their imaginations.

Audience Participation Inspires the Senses: Sight

What do you see when you participate in a presentation? Or better yet, what do people see when you are presenting? They see you, of course, and perhaps your flip charts and PowerPoint slides, but what else. We are presenting to generations that grew up with so much visual stimulation that they are waiting to see something “different” each time they view a presentation. PowerPoint has become cliché; flip charts have also become a useful, but retro medium. So how can we involve sight as a creative augment to our presentations?

Inspires the Senses SightOnce speaking on the problem of commercializing Christmas I spoke in a Santa Claus outfit. There were several opportunities throughout the presentation to use the costume to help emphasize dramatic points. Likewise, speaking on an Easter Sunday on the real meaning of Easter, I spoke while dressed as the Easter Bunny. The comic relief was immediate, which was easily translated into many illustrations and illuminations concerning the subject material. Speaking to a group on an issue that needed to be taken seriously I wore a gorilla outfit, reminding them throughout the presentation, “not to monkey around with…..” The extra visual helped people to make the connection of the presentation points while becoming a constant illustration that I could refer to with appropriate gestures and comments.

We think we’ve helped the audience when we have made our display on a white board or flip chart- and these are great items to include. We often put up PowerPoint, or presentation slides that we have labored over concerning the content, font, size, color, pictures, animations, etc. All of which are fine, but don’t make the impression or connection they used to make.

Our personal movement, gestures and voice are the most important visuals that we can enhance to make better connections with the audience, but don’t overlook being creative. Give them something “else” to see. Once demonstrating the importance of prioritizing I saw a presenter place objects in a glass jar in descending size order. Every time we thought he couldn’t get more in the jar he would place something smaller in the jar, finally filling it with sand and then water. The point wasn’t that there is always room for more, but rather you better get the big things in first. I still remember the lesson because of the visual.

In your next presentation preparations take some time to be innovative while thinking, “What can I put before the audiences’ eyes to help them understand and integrate the message?” Maybe your message will get through their eyes and into their imaginations.

Audience Participation Inspires the Senses: Sound

Inspires the Senses HearingHave you ever been in a conversation, heard something and interrupted with, “What was that?” Many would say that sound is one of the most important senses we have. It allows us to listen, of course, but it also serves as an alert, or warning system. It is a special filter that our brains have the capacity to use to help us decide what we want and need to listen to, and what is not as important. Ever sit in a restaurant oblivious to the sounds around you until you catch a simple word from another conversation, your ears perk up, you motion to the person you’re with to be quiet and your strain to catch the conversation you were previously unaware of- all because one word you overheard? Stop right now, sit back and make take note of all the things you can hear but were previously unaware of, quite interesting.

When you are making a presentation your audience has many sounds going on around them, not just what you’re saying. So why not use that to your advantage. Besides your voice engage their hearing in activities that will help reinforce your message. Hearing a speaker on time management, there was a continuous clicking sound that was almost distracting, until the presenter mentioned the seconds pounding away on a watch. We had all been hearing it, but when we discovered what it was, it reinforced the value of time and the crime of wasting it.

A song played before, during or after a presentation can be a powerful things if the words are displayed and there is an obvious emotional connection to the presentation (just be aware that long (or even not-so-long) instrumentals can cause people’s minds to wonder. A loud noise that rattles the audience can make a vivid point if used wisely and timed properly. I attended a Good Friday service in which the pounding of a hammer against a nail could be heard in the background. Once when talking about teamwork I would randomly bang a loud cymbal. At the end I made the point that as part of a symphony a cymbal can be a very valuable instrument, while by itself it simply is nerve-racking- it made the point well.

When you plan a presentation consider how to involve the sense of hearing beyond just using your words. It may get you message to your audience beyond the ears and into their imagination.

Audience Participation Inspires the Senses: Synergy

Inspires the Senses SynergyThe whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Here is a lesson we need to take to just about every part of our lives, including our presentations. Too often we prepare just wanting to get done. We don’t take time to really think of making an impact and making sure that our points are remembered and assimilated. We simply prepare the parts of the message, put it together, and when it makes sense we practice to make sure we don’t look foolish. Too often the goal of the presentation is to simply get done without making a fool of ourselves, accomplish this and we consider ourselves successful.

But there has to be a better reason to be making the presentation. We must be filling a need and their must be a purpose to what we are doing. When we go about preparing for the presentation we must know that material we are presenting is crucial to those who will hear it. It is important information they need. It is an ingredient in their lives that if they miss it, or forget it, will be the difference between a savory loaf of fresh baked bread and a fresh from the oven brick; just because you forgot a minute amount of yeast. To enjoy a slice of fresh baked bread would be much better than to simply eat the ingredients that go into the delight.

When we prepare our presentations we must see the importance of what we are doing. Then we can become creative to make sure that the message not only gets to the audience, but gets into them. Plan your presentations to take advantage of synergy. Involve the whole person in the experience and the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts. Often presentations are an assault on two senses- hearing- after all we are talking, and sight- we all us some type of presentation software these days. But what of taste, touch and smell? If we can involve more senses in the learning experience that learning becomes more integrated, solicits greater involvement, impacts in a greater capacity, and makes the experience much richer, deeper and lasting.

Instead of asking, “Here are my three points, how can I relate them?” Ask, “Here are my points, how can I help my audience experience them?” Plan and prepare your presentations to be synergistic, you will get your audience beyond just attendance and get into their imaginations.

Use Audience Interaction to Interact with All of the Senses of Your Audience

So remember that audience participation isn’t just asking questions to your audience. You want to make your presentations fun and interactive. Engage all of the senses for a better result! If you’d like to get your team to use audience participation better, contact one of our presentation specialists at 800-975-6151 for a custom quote.

Craig Wagganer is a Keynote and Motivational Speaker specializing in Public Speaking.