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Audience Interaction – Be Creative…Be Different…Stand Out:

The previous post covered the success strategies relating to audience interaction. The following are some additional techniques that I have used.


Picture me preparing for a keynote speech for a group of 40 IT Directors. My preparation three months ahead of time included phoning three audience members and gathering information from the meeting planner. I asked her what the energy level has been in the room for previous events. Her answer was, “They are a tough crowd.” She mentioned they:

  1. Spend most of the time distracted on smartphones or laptops
  2. Are not responsive to questions
  3. Do not react to funny stories

After our phone conversation, you can imagine my concern. I decided to try something I had not tried before.

  1. I customized my presentation based on the phone interviews and my personal discussions with friends who are in the IT business.
  2. I incorporated some relevant humor into my introduction which was read by the meeting planner.
  3. Shortly after my introduction and while on stage, I stated the following, “One thing that was not covered in my introduction is that I am an Irish citizen, a naturalized Canadian citizen, and a naturalized American citizen. I am an IrishAmeriCanadian.” (This got me a giggle.) I then stated, “Us IrishAmeriCanadian keynote speakers are different, we like to illustrate our points with funny stories and examples. So, if you hear me say something funny, or one of your peers says something funny, please give yourselves permission to laugh out loud. That way we can create an energetic learning environment and have some fun.” Note: The success strategy above is a great way to prompt technically smart audiences to give themselves permission to laugh. I use this technique for audiences who are comprised of engineers, accountants, legal, IT folks etc. It works!
  4. I purchased a wireless microphone ball (see picture) which includes a hollow foam ball with a mic inside. The package also included a lavaliere mic and a receiver that can be plugged into a room A/V system or my own audio speakers. Within five minutes of the start of my keynote, I got each table to brainstorm on a relevant problem that they face, and asked for the table leader to share the “wisdom from the table” with the group. When it came time for the feedback from the leaders, I carefully threw or handed over the mic ball creating the atmosphere for lighthearted learning.
  5. Some technical success strategies for using the mic ball:
    • I practiced with the ball to make sure I new how to charge it, so it would be effective for the full length of my keynote. (The battery actually stays charged for about three hours.)
    • I had a back up plan. If it did not work, I could still deliver my presentation. (No risk.)
    • I knew the room size was relatively small and would have around 40 audience members. I brought my own portable audio speakers as a back-up. (It was a back-up in case the room audio was prone to audio feedback or was not working). I tested my own speakers the day before and was confident they would work for the room size.
    • I brought my own electrical extension cord as I needed to plug in the mic receiver , and possibly my own speakers. (This was in case an extension cord was needed and was not available from the A/V technician.)
    • I contacted the conference center ahead of time to make sure an A/V technician would be available at least one hour before the event to help me set up and connect to the room audio system.
  6. Some humor success strategies for using the mic ball – I encouraged a sense of playfulness when using the mic ball. I prepared a few lighthearted statements to get chuckles:
    • “We are going to hand the mic ball to each other since I see laptops and coffee cups. I do not know how coordinated IT directors are early in the morning while caffeine deficient.”
    • “When throwing the ball, please be careful and respectful. Remember you are IT intellectuals–not jocks!”
    • “If you knock over a coffee that’s bad…if you hit a glass of water that that is also bad. If you hit a sprinkler, I don’t get paid. You will need to phone my wife!”

Audience Instructions (I put these steps into my own words):

  1. Break the large group into smaller groups. (E.g. If you need four groups, count out the audience 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. to quickly identify the groups). You might choose to break into table groups if that is how the room is set-up.
  2. Identify your group brainstorming area and ask each group to move to a different area of the room once everyone is counted off. (E.g. Whiteboards or flipcharts that are numbered 1, 2, 3, 4.)
  3. Identify a leader of each group if needed. (E.g. The person who’s tallest/shortest/whose birthday is closest to today, etc.)
  4. Identify the scribe for the group.
  5. Provide the specific time they have to complete the exercise (E.g. 10 minutes.)
  6. Clearly state the issue on which you want the groups to focus.
  7. Let them know how the exercise will end. (E.g. “At the end of the exercise I will clap my hands, and everyone will sit down except the leaders. The leaders will remain at the whiteboard/flip-chart etc. and relay the wisdom of the group using the foam microphone.”
  8. Remind the leaders to pass the microphone gently and respectfully.


This playful audience interaction technique is a clever way of “getting” a volunteer while encouraging everyone to pay attention and focus on the content.

Buy a lightweight sponge or foam ball. So light that it will not hurt anyone or knock over a cup of coffee.

Audience Instructions Example (Here’s the verbiage I used):

  1. At the end, or during some lessons I will throw this ball into the audience.
  2. If the ball hits you, you become the “hot seat volunteer.”
  3. You will be quizzed on the subject. You could win a valuable prize. The prizes I have are Starbucks cards with a value of $5 to $20.
  4. However, if you catch the ball, you get a choice:
    • You can choose the person who will be the “hot seat volunteer.”
    • You can try and answer the question yourself to win the valuable prize.

Note: This interaction technique produces nervous tension and humor…a great combination! It has the added benefit of keeping the audience focused on content retention.


I was doing a keynote at an accounting firm and the attendees varied from secretaries, to front-line workers, to executives. My topic involved business communication skills and dealing with mistakes. I wanted to start them off on level ground. I broke them into groups by table, and requested that they discuss the following amongst themselves:

  1. The first job they ever had
  2. The challenges of that job
  3. The mistakes that they made

The exercise created a “beautiful moment.” There were many identified mistakes and funny stories that got everyone chuckling. The funniest moment came when an executive shared the story of his first job at a golf course where he was a golf cart driver. On his first day at the job he was travelling at high speed and crashed it through a wall. Nobody was in sight, so he drove away. At lunchtime he was called into the golf club managers office who asked him, “Did you crash the new golf cart?” The reply was, “No, absolutely not.” The manager repeated, “Did you crash the golf cart through the wall?” Again, the reply was, “No, absolutely not.” The manager scowled and said, “I want you to watch this security video!”

The audience ended up belly-laughing and here is what we can learn from this:

  1. The story helped me make my point. (You should admit your mistakes as soon as possible and you eventually get to look back and laugh at your mistakes.)
  2. The audience (the executive) became the hero, and there was no doubt in my mind that he gained respect and became more relatable to the group.
  3. This lighthearted moment created energy in the room that maximized ongoing engagement.

Audience Instructions Example (Here’s the verbiage I used):

  1. We will break-out into groups based on your table number.
  2. Stay at your table to brainstorm.
  3. You have three minutes to complete the exercise.
  4. You will relay the best example/story from your table back to the larger audience, so be sure to choose a “spokesperson.”

TECHNIQUE 6 – Audience Members Become Brain Surgeons

In this interactive exercise I was helping the audience understand some reasons that they procrastinate and are hesitant to perform certain tasks. I decided to describe the “fight-or-flight” syndrome that is produced by a part of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is the section of the brain associated with our automatic emotional reaction to a situation. In moments of being overwhelmed, such as having many tasks to do or a difficult one to do, there is a fight (resistance) or flight (ignore) reaction. The interactive exercise involved the following:

  1. The time of the year was Halloween, so I decided to incorporate this into my interaction by using a pumpkin.
  2. Before the session, I hid an almond inside a pumpkin. (It’s a similar shape to an Amygdala brain component.)
  3. I asked for volunteers to become “brain surgeons” and offered to reward them with $20.
  4. I dressed the volunteers as surgeons and got them to drill a hole in the pumpkin with a hole saw to expose and remove the Amygdala.
  5. I then spoke about the Amygdala and discussed its involvement in procrastination.

This one didn’t go so well! What did not go as well as expected?

  1. The audience was hesitant to volunteer, even with a $20 reward.
  2. I did not need two volunteers. One would have been more manageable—and less expensive!
  3. The interaction exercise took too long:
    • They had to dress up in the “surgeon” outfits with a mask and apron.
    • The drilling took too long. (I could have pre-drilled the hole and got them to simply pull out the plug-like pumpkin part.)
    • Retrieving the Amygdala “almond” was slow. (It should have been bigger, easier to retrieve, and easier for the audience to see.)
  4. The senior executive became concerned with employees using a power tool. (That’s him pacing in the background in the video.)

TECHNIQUE 7 – Pre-Mingle to Build Rapport

Turn up early to mingle with the audience. Why would you want to do this and what does it have to do with audience interaction?

  1. Builds rapport with audience members, making them more likely to participate later.
  2. Uncovers additional funny examples and stories that you might want to incorporate into your speech, if you get their permission.
  3. Gives you the chance to ask questions to help you tailor your content and resonate at an emotional level. (E.g. “What’s on your mind coming to this meeting? What are your concerns? What hurdles do you face? What changes would you like to see?

If you are incorporating an audience member’s funny example or story, it’s nice to give them credit by calling out the person’s name and letting the audience know that you were discussing the topic at hand. (E.g. “I was discussing this very topic with Sara earlier. She said…”)

Note: Mingling with the audience before my presentation and encountering chuckle moments has additional benefits:

  1. It helps reduce my pre-speech anxiety.
  2. I now have “new friends” I recognize in the audience, which helps with engagement.

This is a series of blog articles and brief videos on “Finding the Funny – Learn the Step-By-Step-Process to Develop and Deliver Humor & Funny Stories & Incorporate into Serious Content.” The blogs are excerpts from my e-learning course (see link on right) which includes:

  • Over 16 lessons
  • Over 8 hours of video instruction
  • Activities and quizzes to complement each lesson
  • Downloadable worksheets and templates
  • 12 month access to course updates and additions

Please feel free to share with professional speakers, public speakers, trainers…anyone who stands in front of audiences who wants to make them laugh or bring some lightheartedness into serious content. Help me out by “liking,” “subscribing.” and “sharing” on the various social media platforms. To help me out, please make sure you “subscribe” (right-hand column) so you do not miss any of these weekly blog articles. Please feel free to comment on this blog-site and on social-media sites, and share with those who will benefit from them.

Copyright © MMXXI by David R. Hill