Ever found yourself speaking in front of a group of people and wondering, Are they paying any attention at all?

It’s probably happened to all of us at one time or another. We’ve been asked to speak at a meeting, give a presentation, teach a class, or deliver a speech. We prepare and rehearse and plan – only to be met with blank looks and bored faces.

One way to combat low engagement and energy? Get the audience involved.

A trap that many speakers fall into is thinking about the experience only from their perspective. What am I trying to accomplish? What do I need to say, teach, or explain? What do I want the group to think or feel or do after they hear me?

While all important questions to answer when thinking about speaking before a group, the other crucial question to answer is:

WIIFT? (What’s in it for them?)

When you’re trying to persuade or inspire or educate a group, it can be helpful to think of the experience as more of a conversation than a lecture. Put yourself in their shoes and figure out what they care about or what they want to know.

Once you answer the question of how your material is relevant to them, you can then decide how you’ll encourage them to participate. Will you ask questions? Will you solicit feedback? Will you facilitate an activity or exercise that lets them experience firsthand the point you’re trying to get across?

Some situations lend themselves more easily to engaging the audience. A group of colleagues meeting to discuss a project is a very different audience than students at a commencement or conference workshop attendees.

You’ll need to tailor how you engage the audience to the circumstances. Factors to consider include the size and make-up of the group, the way the room is configured, and how much time you have. For example, having the group complete an activity in small groups is much easier in a room where they’re seated at round tables than in an auditorium with seats bolted to the floor.

Whatever the logistics are, answering “WIIFT?” can help you create a powerful, engaging connection with the group. Draw them out and speak to their concerns, needs, hopes, and dreams. They’ll appreciate your approach – and you’ll have a more rewarding experience, too.

How do you engage the audience? Post your ideas and suggestions here!