Involved audiences will remember your message

The new COO finished his carefully scripted and perfectly read speech and asked, "Now, are there any questions?" The silence was so dense, you could almost hear the seventy-five people in the audience breathing. Of course there were questions—hundreds of them. But no one in their right mind was going to be bone headed enough to ask one in front of the entire group.

What a lost opportunity. If the new COO had created a safe atmosphere for the kind of dialogue that everyone in the room was secretly begging for, he could have cut six months off of the "Getting-to-know-you Dance," and he would have jump-started the new culture he was trying to create.

I’m on a one-woman campaign to stamp out boring speeches. They are a waste of everyone’s precious time. A hundred years ago, it may have been the best way to communicate a message, motivate the troops or create change but in this age of interactive software and entertainment, a talking head just doesn’t cut it. The bar has been raised.

You don’t have to sing or act goofy to get your audiences involved and engaged in what you have to say. Audience involvement can be done with sophistication or silliness; the choice is yours. I heard this phrase somewhere, which always helps me to remember:

"Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Force me, and I will resist. Involve me, and I will remember." (author unknown)

Here are some ways to make your speech interesting and memorable:

  1. Start with the outcome you want and work backwards Ask yourself, "What are the three to five most important points I want to make?" Eliminate everything else…they’ll forget it anyway.
  2. For each point, ask, "What exactly do I want the audience to do as a result of each point?"
  3. Then, think of an appropriate story or an individual or group activity that will make the point stick.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • If you want members of the audience to be able to communicate something, pair them up and have them practice it. (For instance, try out a tricky performance review discussion, or practice a sensitive merger announcement.)

  • A quick way to involve a large audience and personalize a point is to ask them to answer a question or share an experience with the person sitting next to them. For instance, I recently opened a speech on ethical leadership this way. I asked members of the audience to tell their neighbor why they left their last job. A quick show of hands led me to one of my main points, "75 percent of employees don’t leave their jobs, they leave their managers."

  • A technique for getting deeper understanding of a main point is to ask audience members to take a short "quiz" on a topic. Then ask them to compare and discuss their answers, or even to come to a consensus, to spark a more meaningful discussion. For example, "As you know, we conduct exit interviews to find out why employees choose to leave our company. Here are ten reasons why people leave. Check off the ones you think are the top three and discuss your answers with the people at your table."
  • Another good time to orchestrate a group discussion is when you are announcing an upcoming change. The groups will be able to internalize the issues if they are asked to identify the advantages or risks, or to discuss ways to implement the changes.

  • When you really do want to have a question and answer period with a large group, ask groups of four to come up with one question or comment per group. You’ll have more than enough "anonymous" questions since it’s safe to ask a "group" question.

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,, or 
About Joan Lloyd
Joan Lloyd & Associates provide
FREE subscription to receive Joan's article by email

Email Joan to submit your question for consideration for publication, request permission to reprint an article for distribution, or for information about carrying Joan Lloyd's weekly column in your publication, or on your Internet or Intranet site. Visit to search an archive of more than 1700 of Joan's articles.
© Joan Lloyd & Associates, Inc.