How to ensure understanding and get engagement when presenting to large audiences

Do you want to convey an important message to a large group and get commitment and buy in? Simply standing in front of them and speaking, even if it is accompanied by a great set of PowerPoint slides, usually doesn’t do it. 

Why? Because the individuals in the audience haven’t been living it and discussing it for weeks like you and your senior team have. They don’t have the context or background information you have.  

You exclaim, “But I ask them if they have any questions and I get nothing!” Of course people aren’t going to stick their neck out in a political atmosphere—in front of peers, bosses, employees—and look like they don’t get it. Or worse, like they are challenging or questioning it! 

Here is a technique I call “The Huddle Technique” that will help you engage with your audience (even hundreds of people), assure they get their questions answered in a safe environment, and experience firsthand what your audience really comprehends and buys into.  

  1. Tell the audience upfront that you are going to be using a new approach to get questions and dialogue after your presentation. This puts them on notice that they will have to do something different, and as a result, they will listen closely. 
  2. Present your material in a concise, conversational manner, using slides that graphically illustrate your points (if slides are necessary). Keep it short—15 minutes is ideal.
  3. Once you are finished, say, “What I would like you to do is to huddle up in groups of four or five, with whomever is seated closest to you. Your assignment over the next 10 minutes or so, is to discuss what was presented and come up with one question or one comment per group.” Then give them time to buzz. 
  4. Interrupt them after about 10 minutes and say, “Can I interrupt please? Now would you go back into your group and choose a spokesperson, who will ask your question or make your comment.” It’s important to wait until the group has had a chance to discuss the topics without a leader before naming a spokesperson. (If you ask for a spokesperson upfront, they will choose the highest ranking or most outspoken person—who tends to dominate the conversation and influence the group with his or her own ideas.) Give the group a few minutes to regroup and decide on their question or comment. This will automatically create a quick prioritization. 
  5. Go group by group and ask the spokesperson to stand and state their group’s comment or question. The beauty of this approach is that it is “safe.” It’s the groups’ question and not a person’s question. They feel more anonymous. Your objective is to answer the questions as honestly and transparently as possible. You may want to direct one of the other leaders to take a question. If the question is something you can’t answer yet, say so and let them know when you will tell them (perhaps in another session like this). If you run out of time, you may want to collect the remaining questions and address them via conference call or email. You may want to ask one of your leaders to write down the questions asked verbally, or collect them on 3x5 cards. Usually there are a lot of similar themes, so even if you have a large audience, a few groups will represent the rest. 
The goal of this process is to address their concerns in the meeting room. If you don’t, it’s likely the real concerns and questions will be voiced in the hallway and behind closed doors for days to come.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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