Presentation Tips: 8 Ways to Captivate and Engage Your Audience

June 1, 2014

Memorable speakers have one thing in common: they know how to create a connection with their listeners. Here are 8 proven presentation tips to engage and involve your audience:

1. Record their wish list. In the first few minutes of the presentation, be sure you clarify and verify what’s most important to the audience. What’s on their wish list to solve or accomplish? You may say something such as, “Your burning issues are the most important ones to address today. In addition to the ones listed here on the agenda slide, are there any others you would like for me to add to the list?” Write them down on a flip chart and be sure to either address them during the presentation or promise to follow up.

2. Play a video or audio clip. Insert short clips so the audience can learn from clients, experts, or leaders. A well-produced video is an excellent addition to a presentation. It provides variation in the format and allows the audience to see remote facilities and hear from different speakers. The video may include customer testimonials, a special message from the company president, or a promotional corporate message, to name just a few possibilities.

3. Use creative props. The CEO of a large insurance company who was an avid tennis player brilliantly used a tennis racquet to drive home the key points of his strategy at an employee meeting. Metaphorically he talked about “acing the competition”; “rallying” with partners; winning a “grand slam” through good customer service and quality products. Year after year, other speakers were compared to this leader’s creative ability to rally the troops.

4. Set up a demonstration and invite audience members to participate. If you’re selling a product that’s small enough to transport, you should demonstrate the key features and benefits during the presentation and then invite the audience to give it a try. The executive vice president of sales for a major computer company wanted to convince a group of prospects to convert from their old laptops to his company’s new tablet PC product. He overcame their skepticism and objections within thirty minutes: after demonstrating the product, he handed a tablet PC to each member of the audience and asked them to perform tasks as he narrated a guided simulation. They experienced for themselves the ease of use, the timesaving features, and the convenience. He closed the order that day, became the vendor of choice for his new client, and sold more than 2,000 units to the company’s sales force.

5. Conduct a quiz or host a game show and give away prizes. Leslie, the vice president of public relations for a major beverage company, had a vision to produce a one-of-a-kind marketing campaign that would teach the public about her company’s impressive, long-standing history and build brand loyalty. Focus group studies indicated customers were confused about the brand and lacked top-of-mind awareness. When she delivered her presentation to skeptical and frugal decision makers to gain the necessary funding, they doubted the need for the campaign. In a whimsical, nonthreatening way, she conducted the same quiz with them that she had conducted with focus groups. They failed the test! She proved her point about lack of brand awareness and convinced them they needed to invest dollars to fund her campaign. A simple quiz helped her walk away with the order! You may also consider using one of the many game show software products available. These tools enable you to turn routine reviews and dry presentations into funny, TV-style quiz shows that boost attention, participation, and retention.

6. Play fill-in-the-blank. Ask listeners to guess certain facts or data, or leave blanks on your slides and ask them to fill in the missing words. This level of audience participation keeps people engaged and active in your presentation.

7. Focus on benefits to the audience. Ask them to confirm the benefits that are important to them. Throughout the presentation, notice when listeners affirmatively nod their heads, take notes, or smile in agreement. Use this opportunity to check in and say, “Sue, I can see you like the idea of reducing downtime by 15 percent. How would this benefit affect your particular department in terms of dollar savings?”

8. Tell a story to illustrate your points. Of all the tools in your kit, telling a well-crafted story is among the most powerful. In fact, storytelling is so important that there’s an entire section dedicated to it later in this chapter. As you begin to think about your story, consider these questions: What were your pain points? How did you overcome them? What’s unusual about your particular journey? What are your lessons learned?

Adapted with permission from Well Said by Darlene Price (Amacom Books)

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About The Author

DARLENE PRICE is the president and cofounder of Well Said!, Inc., a training and consulting company specializing in high-impact presentations and effective communication.


  1. avatar

    […] “Ask them to confirm the benefits that are important to them. Throughout the presentation, notice when listeners affirmatively nod their heads, take notes, or smile in agreement. Use this opportunity to check in.” Read her full article here. […]

  2. avatar

    I like your story Darlene. I agree. A good keynote speaker should build in audience discussion, making the presentation engaging and interactive e.g. with some interesting (relevant, informative or even funny) poll. You have plenty of apps out there that can help you with this task. It would be my pleasure if you consider and use CON.FO – web based app that helps you to make your event a dialogue.

  3. avatar

    In answer to Mark Penick’s comment below, I’d say rather than rebuilding your talk on-the-fly, you just need to touch on each point that’s raised, whenever it’s most appropriate in your existing outline. And you can always say you’ll be happy to follow up afterwards.

    Having done the groundwork before the talk, there shouldn’t be major points missing from what you’ve prepared, so it’s more about tweaking than rebuilding.

    I see it as being on the same level as customising your examples. For instance, if you use a sports analogy during your talk, you’d amend your talk ahead of time to mention the local team rather than your home town’s team. Similarly, the audience might ask how your points affect their specific industry, which you should have already built into your talk – provided the audience isn’t from numerous industries!

    For an example where I first saw the tip being used (and was extremely impressed by it as an audience member!), see

  4. avatar

    […] If you do not speak eloquently, your presentation sounds unprofessional. The third most annoying habit was using too many “umms” and “uhhs,” which is a symptom of a larger problem of not communicating effectively. This could be a result of stage fright, or perhaps you are coming up with what you say on the go, but more often than not these interjections happen unconsciously. Despite how innocuous they seem, they can ruin your credibility. […]

  5. avatar

    i want to copy this video and want to follow there tips.

  6. avatar

    Wait a minute — record their wish list, seconds before you give your prepared talk, and then rebuild your talk on the fly? That’s a disaster waiting to happen. I like most of the other suggestions, but this surely is impossible.

  7. avatar

    I really like #1 (record their wish list). Years ago I went on a course where the trainer started by asking everyone in the room what they most wanted to learn about the topic. He wrote each wish on the whiteboard, then constructed the whole course to answer each one. Wonderful!

    Here’s another engaging tip you could add: For each question during Q&A, you can show a new and relevant slide to keep people visually engaged – no matter what the question is about! (That’s especially helpful when you present online, where people can get distracted all too easily. Yet most presenters show just one slide for their entire Q&A!)

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