One of the biggest challenges for speakers and trainers is audience engagement. “My topic is so booooooring!” people cry. “How can I pep it up so that people’s eyes don’t roll back in their heads?”

My thoughts are – just because the topic is dull, doesn’t mean your delivery has to be.

Here are five ways to engage people and increase retention of your message.

1. Photos 
A picture is worth a thousand words and is much more memorable than text on the screen. Research by Professor John Sweller shows that speaking while showing text on the screen can increase cognitive load which results in decreased retention. Speaking to a diagram or photo uses different parts of the brain and can act as a memory trigger and therefore increase retention. Just make sure that the photo is relevant to your message as well as your audience and you’re good to go.

Royalty free photos can be found at:

2. Stories
Think back to the best teacher you had at school, or the best lecturer at university,  chances are they brought their topic to life through stories. Stories engage us not only on an emotional level (they make us care about the topic) but also on an intellectual level as they allow us to incorporate our memories and experience which increases retention.

You can find or create stories on any topic. I had a workshop participant ask how he could create stories about GST and I picked up the item closest to me and said “Share with them the life cycle of a glass. Start with when the silica was mined. Was GST charged? What about when it was sold to the manufacturer? When it was made into a glass and sold to the retailer and then finally to the consumer?”

Personal stories enable you to share your expertise – they also make you more approachable and likable – and this, in turn, makes you more persuasive. 

3. Icebreakers 
Icebreakers can reinforce the message you are trying to get across, bond a group together, or be used as a bit of brain relief after an information-dense session.

There are many books available such as Games Trainers Play available on Amazon, or you can conduct an internet search and find one to suit your needs.

As you may have guessed by now – I love quotes! Two quotes I use in my ‘Managing Meetings’ workshop are:

“Meetings – Where minutes are taken and hours are wasted”

“A person who enjoys meetings should not be in charge of anything”

Quotes are great for encapsulating what you want to say. They can be memorable, engaging, funny or flick an emotional switch. Google quotes on your topic of choice or visit my favourite sites:

Quotes are a great way of injecting humour and encouraging discussion – and they’re free!

5. YouTube
Many of my ‘Staple it to their heads – How to make your training stick.’ participants use YouTube clips to demonstrate everything from OH&S issues through to how to greet customers effectively.

When I MC’d the Australian Institute of Training and Development conference a few years back, YouTube clips were shown to entertain the early arrivals. By the end of the conference word had got out and we had had hundreds of early arrivals!

Some of my  favourites that always make me smile are:

     Darth Vader Volkswagen
     Old Spice man
     Where the hell is Matt
     Where is Matt 2016
     Kia and Melissa McCarthy

Conduct an Internet search on the topic you are presenting on and see if you can find an entertaining video that encapsulates your message. Short videos are best: look for those around 90 seconds or less. A word of warning though – copyright does apply to YouTube as well, so ensure you stick to the ‘fair use’ guidelines.


To summarise – it’s ok to have fun and allow people to enjoy your presentation. As long as what you are using is relevant to your objective and your audience you can’t go wrong.  Fun and enjoyment enhances concentration, reduces stress, encourages participation and helps in the absorption of learning. (see here)

So, when you start planning your presentation make sure you plan for engagement as well.

Sharon Ferrier
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