Have you ever stood in front of a room full of people and awkwardly waited for a response to a question you asked? Better yet, have you ever been the audience member sitting silently as the presenter practically begged for participation? It’s the ages old dilemma that every presenter faces and with which every audience identifies. And the best way to engage your audience and garner the highest amount and most meaningful participation is to develop a comprehensive understanding of your audience’s needs and gather insight into their distinct motivations.

1. Appeal to various drives

People can be motivated extrinsically or intrinsically, according to psychologists. When you sign up for and compete in a 5k, you may either seek a reward such as a trophy (extrinsic motivation) or a sense of accomplishment for completing the race (intrinsic motivation). When you decide to go on a diet to lose that extra 10 pounds you gained over the holidays, you may either yearn to fit into those size 4 jeans (extrinsic motivation) or a feeling of excitement for meeting a goal (intrinsic motivation). Every presenter will encounter audience members who are extrinsically motivated and audience members who are intrinsically motivated.

Presentation Tip:

During presentation activities or Q&A and discussion sessions, make a point to include rewards for both extrinsically and intrinsically motivated individuals. For example, before starting a true/false exercise, tell the audience that for every answer they get correct, they will earn a piece of candy or other external reward to ignite the extrinsics. This will encourage those members of the audience less knowledgeable or interested in your topic to expand their understanding. Avoid offering sources of extrinsic motivation when the majority of your audience has a background in the topic, as the reward won’t be as effective. Intrinsics, or those already interested and knowledgeable about the subject matter, will engage in the activity because they perceive it as a challenge and that excites them.

2. Demonstrate audience appreciation

By merely just showing your audience that you care, you can drastically increase the chances that a majority of people will participate in presentation discussions and activities during the course of the hour or day. Consider the Hawthorne Effect, which was first discovered in experiments with factory workers. Throughout the studies, researchers changed different aspects of the work environment – from the lighting and quantity of breaks to the amount of pay. As the changes were made over a period of time, the level of productivity increased. Even though a presenter won’t necessarily have a significant amount of time to manipulate venue conditions, he or she can still take measures before, during, and after a presentation to show appreciation for the audience.

Presentation Tip:

Elements of the presentation environment a presenter is able to alter includes everything from the temperature in the room and the seating arrangement to his or her own appearance and stature and content structure. This, in conjunction with an understanding of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, will assist you in demonstrating audience appreciation. The hierarchy consists of the following needs: biological and physiological, safety, love and belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization. A great presenter will ensure that all of these needs are met while with the audience. For example, meet the base needs of food and warmth by bringing snacks for people to munch on and paying attention to the comfort level temperature-wise of individuals. Provide safety by securing a solid content structure and flow that will seamlessly guide the group through the presentation. Establish friendship by using humor or storytelling to relate to the audience. To accommodate their esteem needs, offer group and individual activities that allow for people to master a skill or achieve a feeling of independence. Finally, end your presentation with a call to action that incites people to discover their potential or to search for opportunities to grow.

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3. Explain the purpose

Thomas Jefferson School of Law professor, Marybeth Herald, outlined several different tactics teachers should employ to boost classroom participation. One tactic involves “playing the role of learner.” According to Marybeth, a teacher should furnish the reasons for a particular question. To detail the main concepts and ideas the student should leave the class knowing.

Presentation Tip:

For the presenter hoping to achieve maximum participation, the best strategy would be to open a presentation with a brief overview of the structure and the topics that will be discussed. This not only emphasizes the points that your audience should remember from the get go, but it also puts them at ease and increasing their comfortability with the presentation direction.

4. Frame the goal

A recent study called the Psychology of Motivations and Actions mentioned that framing a goal as a learning opportunity as opposed to a performance judgement results in higher levels of achievement. A person who views goals as chances to learn will be able to engage in meaningful discussions where other individuals might criticize their point of view. Those who view goals as performance opportunities will be stunted by criticism.

Presentation Tip:  

How should a presenter utilize this tip? By simply framing the purpose of an exercise as an exploration into a topic or a free-flowing discussion, a presenter can open the doors for a constructive conversation, capable of unleashing a variety of opinions and stimulating audience interests.

5. Inject a competitive component

A study conducted just last year claimed that the United States is the third most competitive country in the world. And while everyone in your audience may not be insanely competitive, a bit of healthy rivalry could entice many to participate in your presentation. A 2014 study by Gavin Kilduff found that the existence of an identifiable rival enhanced the motivation of competing runners. This same theory could apply to the presentation arena – able to be utilized in a variety of ways.

Presentation Tip:

A presenter could implement a competitive spirit with an activity dividing the crowd into pairs or groups and instructing them to compete against one another to finish a puzzle or to answer questions or to build a structure – anything that relates back and is relevant to your presentation topic.

Even though you may never have the resources necessary to get a firm grasp on exactly what motivates your audiences and inspires them to participate in certain activities, playing around with the tips listed above could move you a few steps closer to hitting the mark. For more information about motivation and its importance in presentations, read the following resources:

6 Types of Motivation Explained

How Curiosity Impacts a Presentation

Why You Need to Go Mobile With Your Presentations

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