Audiences are accustomed to sitting and listening. If you can reach out and encourage them to speak up, you have broken the invisible barrier separating the presenter from the audience. Here are some simple things you may wish to try:
Invite the audience to stand and stretch. If the audience has been sitting for a while, invite people to stand and stretch. They will appreciate your gesture.
Pose questions to the audience. Possible questions include the following:
How is everyone today? If the response is tepid, pose the question again. You can go back and forth until you hit the right level of enthusiasm.
Why are we here today? This is a good one for getting people to speak up. You can have some fun with the audience.
Where are you from? Invite people to stand when you call the name of their city or state. (Note: Find out in advance where the majority of the people live so that you can mention those areas first.)
Create an ongoing dialogue with the audience. Find points in your speech where you can ask rhetorical questions. You can even pause for a group response. Watch how Oprah shifts from asking a question of the interviewee to asking a question of the audience. This helps the audience connect with the guest as well as with Oprah.
Thank the audience. Entertainers are perpetually thanking the audience for its patronage. Leaders can learn from this example. Recognize individuals in the audience for special achievement. Take a moment to thank the group for achieving a milestone or even for coming to this gathering. Do not overdo it, but acknowledge the audience for its participation. Mother Teresa thanked contributors to her mission through speeches and words, but she also thanked God for enabling her to carry out her mission. These types of communications reflected on how Mother Teresa saw herself—as an instrument in the service of a higher power for a greater good.