Listen Now

Need an icebreaker for your presentation? Want to engage your audience and gain control of the room? You will learn 5 techniques for amazing audience interaction.

Tips and topics:

  • Icebreaker techniques for speakers;
  • How to Build Trust and Intimacy with Your Audience;
  • 5 techniques for creating awesome audience interaction;
  • Audience interaction – what to do and what NOT TO DO;
  • Audience interaction techniques must be directly proportionate to the trust that you earned.

00:00 Welcome to Steal the Show with Michael Port, I’m Michael. And, this episode is about top tips for amazing audience interaction. Now remember, this entire show is based on the book, “Steal the Show,” it’s out and you can buy it anywhere books are sold. If you want a whole bunch of bonuses, like free templates for creating your speeches, developing your content, crafting stories, to tickets to live events around the country, free public speaking training videos and much more, then go to, that’s, and then you can get all those bonuses right there.

00:41 Look, my goal in life is to delight and entertain you, and help you see just how fantastic you are, and sometimes I think we question that when we’re working on putting together any kind of presentation, because we get lost. We get lost when we’re trying to figure out what to do to create some cool audience interaction. We get stuck. We don’t wanna do an imitation of Tony Robbins, which is great, but we don’t wanna do an imitation of somebody else, we get stuck up there. So what we do is we just put up a PowerPoint, we click it a few times, we speak to our notes, we stand in one spot or we wander aimlessly around the stage, but we don’t engage with the audience in the way that we want to, because we don’t know how to. So I’m gonna give you some tips for amazing audience interaction.

01:29 This episode will be short, and I hope, hard-hitting, because when you interact with your audience and you connect with them, well then you can deliver emotional and structural contrast, which helps you break through that… I guess I’d call it the outer armor of indifference that people often bring to a presentation. And the result is a much richer, more memorable experience, and it’s designed to support your big idea and then, then it can change lives, if you go about it effectively, you don’t force it.

02:10 Write this down, if you’re driving, don’t write this down, just remember it, you can write it down later. But, if you have a pen and a piece of paper, or you’re at your computer, write this down; I believe that audience interaction techniques must be directly proportional to the amount of trust that you’ve earned. I’ll say it again; Audience interaction techniques must be directly proportionate to the amount of trust that you’ve earned. Because think about it, if you walk out, lets say you’re giving a speech on debt, and you walk out to an audience that doesn’t really know you and they don’t really know each other, and you say, “Raise your hand if you’re in debt!” Who’s gonna raise their hand? They don’t wanna be embarrassed in front of everybody else.

02:56 Or if you say, if you’re doing a speech on raising children and you just happen to talk about alcoholism for some reason, it comes into the speech, and you say, “Raise your hand if you’re an alcoholic!” You don’t have enough trust to ask that question, but if you’ve been working with these people for some time, and they trust you, and they trust each other, well you can ask more personal questions because you have earned the trust to do so.

03:21 So make sure that any interaction you have with an audience is directly proportionate to the amount of trust that you’ve earned, because your audience will trust you more as they experience the quality of your presentation, and the passion you have for your topic. And then, you can ask more from your audience as you progress through your performance.

03:46 And know the baseline of trust governed by your particular situation. Are you a known manager? Maybe you’re relatively unfamiliar to an audience of your co-workers. Or, are you well known within your organization? Are you well respected already? Or maybe somewhere in between? Are you a paid speaker, already known to an audience? Or a paid speaker, relatively unfamiliar? Maybe you’re speaking to members of your local community, who have a general familiarity with you, for whatever reason, or, are you dropping in to address an unknown audience, in a new place, with new circumstances?

04:29 Now, various forms of audience interaction can require a progression of intimacy. Now this progression could start, it doesn’t have to, but it could start by asking questions and getting a show of hands, and then move on to asking audience members to introduce themselves to one another, progressing to you going down into the audience to engage individuals, or even having people join you on stage to more advanced highly interactive exercises. So, you’ll improve with experience in reading a room and assessing how engaged they are, and whether you need to draw them in with more interaction.

05:13 If the room or a theater is dark and you can’t see the audience, which sometimes happens when the lights are in your face, you listen to hear if your jokes are landing, and even ask for more audible response. You might say, “Okay, guys, I can’t see all of you in the back, so let me know, say, ‘yes,’ if you agree.” Now, if you can see the audience, you can check them out as you go through early parts of your performance. Remember, sometimes folks are really engaged, but they don’t show it for any number of reasons. But if your audience looks alert and engaged and responsive, trust me, they’re digging your performance.

05:51 I like to group audience interaction methods into five types; ice-breakers and trust builders, reminders and reinforcers, role players, creative high contrast exercises, and Q&A tips and traps. Now, I’m gonna dedicate an entire episode to Q&A tips and traps, so you listen to that one for more on Q&A. However, let’s focus on the first four different types: Ice breakers and trust builders is one, reminders and reinforcer is two, role players is three, and creative high contrast exercises is four. So ice breakers and trust builders, it helps significantly to meet an audience before your presentation in the lobby or wherever appropriate. So you shake hands, you introduce yourself, you ask for names, you find out where people are from, you can even take photos with them and then use those photos during your presentation, that’s a little more advanced ’cause you have to insert them into your decks, but it can be done, I’ve seen it done, I’ve recommended it; it’s pretty cool.

06:57 Now, people sometimes stay away from the audience before their presentations, ’cause they’re nervous, but one of the best ways to reduce your anxiety is to get to know the people beforehand. I wouldn’t engage in conversations for too long. I certainly wouldn’t talk about your material, so people will often say, what are you gonna talk about? And you can say, “Oh, you’ll see, it’s gonna be great.” And that’s it and then move on, because you don’t wanna engage in a conversation about because someone may push back and then all of a sudden, you’re in this weird conversation with somebody who’s not crazy about the way that you presented it and then you start questioning yourself, and then you just get more and more anxious. So you don’t get into the material when you’re meeting people, rather you’re just getting to know them so you feel like you’ve connected, look at them in the eye, you shake their hand, you know their name, and you move on, and then this way, they feel like they already know you even before you stand on stage or in front of the room, wherever you are, a conference room, a hotel room, et cetera.

08:02 You can also break the ice by having your audience move, stand, stretch their toes, do jumping jacks, move around the room the room if feasible. Physical exercise, it improves alertness, it’s one of those things that you might think, “Oh, I don’t know, that’s cheesy. I don’t wanna get people stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down.” I always say this: People will often ask the same thing about sales and say, “How do I sell, or how do I get people in the audience to do these exercises without being cheesy?” So I ask, “Well, are you cheesy?” And they say, “No, of course not!” They’re almost a little bit offended. I said, “Well, then you won’t be cheesy, you’re fine.” You won’t be slimy if you’re not slimy, it doesn’t work that way. So, just do your work with authenticity and make your decisions based on what the audience needs to get a better result, so you choose and you make your decisions based on what you know your audience needs and this way, it helps you produce the results that you are there to produce.

09:17 You can also build trust by phrasing audience questions to get the desired response, which you can then tie into your next point. For example, if I’m doing my bit on what’s wrong with elevator speeches, instead of asking, “How do you like giving an elevator speech?” Is it because if I say, “How do you like giving an elevator speech?” People may raise their hand. Instead of that, I may say, “Raise your hand if you love, just love, and when I say love, I mean love, love, love giving an elevator speech.” And if you’re not familiar with an elevator speech, that’s a 32nd pitch, how you describe yourself. The idea is in 30 seconds, so I’m almost supposed to take out their wallet, give you their money, it makes no sense.

10:02 If you have an idea, you don’t wanna raise money for a business, for a venture capitalist, that’s a little bit different, but it’s generally not the way that relationships develop between two human beings outside of that particular space. So I say, “Forget about it,” but the point is, some people may raise their hands if I use just one love, however even in a room filled with 5,000 people, when I use three loves or four loves and I stretch them out, no hands go up, because I have yet to meet someone who loves, loves, loves, loves, loves, just loves giving their elevator speech. So I’m setting up the room to get the answer that I want, and then it allows me to move into the next segment. Now, it’s good to have a backup plan as well, if they don’t respond as you anticipate such as, “Good, I’m glad that you love your elevator speech and you’re gonna love it even more when you’ve heard this.”

11:04 Now the second category is reminders and reinforcers, so you can increase engagement by asking your audience to respond to a recurring routine or a question over the course of your presentation. You can have a prop that you keep returning that stands for a key idea in the presentation, for example. Say the first iPod for a speech about continuous improvement and innovation, or one of my clients, Beth Allen, there’s a speech called “Potty Talk”. It’s really quite clever and very funny; she teaches DIY for women for home improvement. And she uses the tools to illustrate different concepts around self-improvement and she teaches home improvement at the same time, it’s quite clever. So she’ll use a level and she’ll use a hammer, she even brings an actual toilet on stage. And she has people throw crumpled up toilet paper into the toilet as an exercise, so she’s using these props for audience interaction, and she keeps coming back to them throughout.

12:14 Now of course there’s always simple call and response with the audience, and that is fun, but you got to be comfortable with it, practice it, because if you do audience interaction you need to be able to control the audience. That’s very, very important. You always decide exactly what’s gonna happen in that moment, and if something else occurs then you need to be ready to handle it using improv, but one of the biggest mistakes people make when they’re doing audience interaction, and listen carefully ’cause this is a gem, one of the biggest mistakes people make when they’re trying to do audience interaction is they don’t set up the end of whatever audience interaction they have just done.

12:55 For example, if I ask you to do an exercise or play a game like in the Think Big Revolution keynote that I do, you can see a 16-minute excerpt of that at And in that show, one of the things that I do is I get people to take pictures of each other in pretty intimate poses, not romantically intimate, but their arms around each other or sitting on each others’ lap, not in a romantic way again, or hugging each other. Because I show a video from 60 minutes where they profiled a photographer who in New York City, finds people who do not know each other, gets them into intimate poses and takes pictures and they’re absolutely remarkable. And the people say that they make such a connection with that person, the person they didn’t know, the person who is completely, or at least seemingly different than they are. So I show them the video and I come out and say, “Hey guys. Listen up. We’re gonna do it.” And usually I hear, “What? What?”

14:02 I hear a little gasps of surprise. And not only do I tell them exactly what is going to happen and how long it’s gonna take place, but I tell them how it’s gonna end before it starts. Because if you don’t, you can lose control of the room. One of my colleagues did a TEDx talk and he sent me the video, and he said, “I had a lot of trouble in the beginning. I almost lost the whole audience. What should I have done next time?” And what I’m teaching you now, is exactly what he should have done. He had this great little exercise at the beginning and it helped people meet each other, but he didn’t tell them how it’s gonna end and he had about 450 people in the room. And a few minutes in he said, “Okay guys, come on back.” Nobody came back. All you heard was talking, talking, talking, talking, talking. He said, “Alright guys, come on back.” Nobody came back. All you heard was talking, talking, talking, talking, talking. He said, “Guys come on back. I only have 18 minutes.” and he got frustrated.

15:08 He eventually recovered, but it was a kind of an uneasy feeling in that moment. He panicked a little bit and the audience felt it. They did come back, but they felt that panic, so he had to recover from that moment, and fortunately he did, but you don’t want that to happen to you. So before you start whatever exercise you’re doing, you set up the ending and here’s what you can do. I tell them exactly how it’s gonna go and then I tell them here’s how it’s gonna end. At the end of these, say three minutes if this is what we’re doing, at the end of these three minutes, you’re gonna hear the music go off, you’re gonna see me standing right here in this exact spot on the stage with my hand raised, my hand will be up in the air. That’s the signal for you to raise your hand, stop moving, stop talking, and then immediately sit down. And so if you see someone else’s hand raised, same thing. You immediately raise your hand, stop moving, stop talking, and immediately sit down.

16:11 I’ve done this with thousands and thousands and thousands of people in huge convention centers, and it works every single time. In fact, it works better when I have 5000 people than when I have 50. Because the noise quiets down so quickly in the large space with so many people that they recognize exactly what’s happening. It’s not a slow reduction of noise. It’s an immediate reduction of noise. And then everybody sits down and that is power, because you’ve just sat down everyone in the room without opening your mouth, because if you have to call them back, you have to shout at them, then you are not strong. You are not in a strong position. You are in a weak position. So you wanna use silence to be powerful.

17:06 Role players. Now that’s our next one, role players. When you have cultivated more trust in your audience, you can organize small groups or teams. Now it’s easy when it’s done with people seated at tables. You give each one a role relating to a major topic in your presentation and this can certainly work with individuals but it’s great way to get people connected. You can also have people vote by moving to one corner of the room and then have each group explain their vote. Let’s say I was giving a speech on audio production, I’m looking at a microphone right now so let’s use that as an example, then it’s all audio files, professionals in the industry. Then I say, “Well here are three different examples of a particular technique. Which ones do you think are best? If you believe technique A is best go to that corner. If you believe B is best go to that corner. If you believe C is best go to that corner.”

18:01 Now I’ve got everybody grouped, and then I say, “Okay, now you’re gonna choose one representative from this group to give a two minute presentation on why your particular technique is the right technique, and then after that happens, then we can discuss it.” So, these are great ways of getting people involved, rather than just calling on one person in the audience. Everybody’s moving, you get that physical engagement, they’re talking to each other, you get that kind of intellectual and emotional engagement, and it’s fun. It also produces contrast, and contrast is king. Contrast is so important because the sameness is boring. Different is often interesting. When you move from stillness to moving around the room, well, that’s more interesting than just sitting the whole time. So, just an example of contrast.

18:53 You can also recruit someone from the audience to role play a short scene with you on stage. You assign her a part, right? So, you can move down with the house, and you can pick someone out for a role play or a Q&A, just right there on the spot. And again, this creates great contrast and puts you on the side of audience. It might take a little getting used to, I guess like a magician looking for a volunteer, and you need to pay attention to the social signals you’re getting from the folks in your audience. Who’s following you with their eyes? Who’s looking down or away from you? Who’s leaning forward, who’s not? You can pick up pretty clearly who wants to be up there. Now sometimes, you don’t wanna pick the most eager person, because often, that most eager person will try to take over the room, they wanna be the speaker.

19:41 Interestingly, when I was 24 and I was in graduate school, I went to see a play on Broadway called “Fool Moon,” that’s Fool Moon, F-O-O-L, and it was with two clowns. It was absolutely beautiful, beautiful play. They don’t speak at all during the show. And I was with my girlfriend at the time, and my really close friend Daniel Dae Kim, you probably know him from Lost and Hawaii Five-0, a wonderful actor, and his wife. And we’re in the second row. And when they were looking for audience volunteers, I wasn’t hiding, but I wasn’t eager, and they picked me. And then, we were up on stage, they had us do something, and afterwards when we were in a line, one of the clowns turned to me with his back towards the audience and goes, “You’re a (beep) actor, aren’t you?” And it was hysterical. He broke character for me completely and said that he’s like… And I said, “Yeah.” He goes, (Beep)! That’s never happened to me before! I picked the wrong person.” Because obviously I knew what to do up there, and they didn’t want people who knew what to do up on stage who were very comfortable on stage, so that in fact was my Broadway debut, the first and only time I was on Broadway, but that’s another story altogether. So that’s role players.

21:03 Now, number four, creative high-contrast exercises. When you believe that your audience is ready for more involved exercises that take a larger role in your presentation, this, this is where you can go for it. You are only limited by your imagination and your common sense. We often use that expression, “You’re only limited by your imagination.” But if your imagination runs away with you and loses sight of common sense, then you might get yourself in trouble. So make sure common sense, plus imagination, that will produce really creative high-contrast exercises.

21:39 So, here’s a few examples to get you started. You can give out prizes for the first correct answer, written or spoken, to one of your questions. And by the way, try to stay away from leading the audience negatively. Meaning, sometimes you’ll ask a question, and you’re looking for a particular answer, and you will go person, by person, by person, of course they’ve raised their hands, and sometimes they don’t, you call them anyway, which is even worse. You’ll go through them and they don’t give you exactly what you’re looking for, so you go, “No, next?” So for example, “What’s the best color in the world?” Someone says, “Blue.” “Not so much, next?” And they go, “Red?” “Ooh, no, next?” And then you’re going through saying, “No, no, no, no, no.” One of the things you’ll learn in Steal the Show, is how to say, “Yes, and?” And that’s in the second part of the book, because one of the performer’s principals is about saying, “Yes.” So if you say, “What’s the best color in the world?” And someone says, “Blue?” “Yes, and what other color?” “Yes, and what other color?” And now they’re involved and engaged, and you’re supporting them. Because if you are gonna ask something of somebody, you better reward them for doing what you asked them.

22:56 So you can give out prizes for the correct answer, that’s always fun, people love prizes. Ultimately we’re just monkeys who want a banana, we want a little candy, a little treat, that’s great, and they don’t have to be food, you can give other types of gifts away. You can also toss a squishy ball with audience members to emphasize a point. And for example, improv involves being ready to pitch back a response, just as you’d throw a ball back. So one of the things that I teach of course, is improv. Not to actors, but to non-actors of course, people like you. And one of the ways that I demonstrate this concept is with a ball. So, I will throw the ball, and then someone throws it back. But of course, I can’t throw the ball til they’re ready, and I need to make sure that they received what I threw, and they can’t throw it back to me until I’m ready.

23:49 Because often, when we’re communicating with people, we will just communicate when we’re ready, regardless of whether they are ready or they’re absorbing it, and then they’ll throw something back at us, regardless of whether we’re ready or absorbing it. So the ball demonstrates this activity, and people get it pretty quickly. You can put balloons on a conference table and have the audience blow them up at the beginning of your presentation, and then you can tell them to pop a balloon with a pen when something resonates with them. And it’s really fun, you get these popping sounds all throughout your presentation. I really like that. Some people may not want the noise, but the noise demonstrates that they’re getting it, that they’re with you, and that is a very, very effective technique to demonstrate, to get social proof that what you’re teaching is resonating with people.

24:34 Here’s another one: You can place an easy button, remember Staples easy button? You would press it and it says, “That was easy.” So you place an easy button on every table and you tell the audience members, “Any time I share something that makes you think, ‘Wow, that was easy’, reach out and hit the button.” I use this very effectively a number of times, and what I did was put the easy button right at the front of the stage. And so what I would tell them is that any time I say something that resonates with you, that makes sense to you, you run up, no matter what I’m doing, and you hit the easy button. So if I say something and you go, “Oh, wow, that’s kind of easy, it’s much easier than I thought it would be”, just run up, hit the easy button, and sit down. And throughout the whole presentation, people are running up, hitting the button, sitting down, running up, hitting the button, sitting down. And because I can control the timing in the room, I can control my own timing because I’m well-rehearsed and I know what I’m doing, well, then I can manage the people coming up to the easy button and going back to the seat and I can incorporate them into what I’m presenting. So that’s really, really fun. Again, social proof is very effective, very helpful anytime you’re giving a presentation.

25:46 Similarly, if you have access to a large whiteboard on stage or wherever it might work for that specific room, it could be a conference room, have each person in the room write one, two, or three of their vital questions on the board at the beginning of the presentation. And then, you get the audience fully engaged by daring them to run up and mark a line, and you cross it out, right through the question that you’ve just answered. And I’ve done this with as many as 50 people, and each person wrote their top three questions about the topic on the board, and by the end of the presentation, every single question was crossed off. So do the math for a second: That’s as many as 150 questions answered in six minutes. The visual is very, very powerful by the end of the session. And then they also notice that they’re not alone because many of the questions that were asked or issues that were raised are the same. So one answer might have 10 people running onto the stage to cross out their individual questions.

26:52 And there you go, there’s your start for amazing audience interaction. You never know ’til you try it, gotta take some risks. Remember, one of the performance principles you’ll learn in part two of “Steal the Show” is raise the stakes. If you wanna do anything in a big way, anything in your life that has meaning, you’ve gotta have high stakes. You gotta take risks, and these risks will not put you in jail if they don’t work. You will not get arrested if they don’t work. But if your desire is stronger than your fear, well, then you’ll probably come out ahead.

27:25 Thank you very much, this is Michael Port for Steal the Show. If you want a copy of the book, go to Get there, get there fast because I’ve got a lot of bonuses for you, giveaways for you. So live events around the country, buy a couple books, come for free. You want free templates to create your content, to tell your stories, craft them? Buy a book, you’ll get it. You want free public speaking coaching videos? Buy a couple books, you’ll get it. My goal in life, besides to sell a lot of books, is to delight and entertain you, and I want you to think big about who you are and what you offer the world. Go subscribe, write a review, share this podcast with other people so that they too can shine during the spotlight moments of their life. That’s it for now, this is Michael Port signing off.