Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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October 20, 2017

5 Tips for Presenting an Engaging Workshop

“Picture them in their underwear.”

Has there ever been a more stupid piece of advice? Yes, I know it was delivered by none other than the quintessential dad of my generation, Mike Brady.

But his perm and that piece of advice were both mistakes. That trick might make you see your audience in a new light — or wish someone would turn off the lights — but it won’t actually make your presentation better.

What can? Below are five quick tips for making your workshop more engaging for your audience.

Woman speaking in front of a room

1. Consider your hook.

You’ve heard a million times how stories need a great hook. Why would presentations be any different? “I’m here to talk about blah, blah, blah” doesn’t grab an audience’s attention. Figure out a better way to hook your audience and introduce your subject. Here are some hook ideas:

  • Personal story
  • Intriguing facts/statistics
  • Poignant example
  • Joke related to the topic (No willy-nilly “an angel, a demon, and a writer walk into a bar…”)
  • Object lesson
  • Interactive quiz

Your introduction doesn’t need to be long, but enough to excite your audience and make them believe it’s worth listening to the rest of what you’re going to say. You can also use your hook to establish rapport and express your unique personality (what we call voice on the page).

2. Break the presentation into parts.

However long you’re given to speak to your audience, it’s too long. That is, our attention span for a speaker lasts maybe 15-20 minutes. Thus the popularity of TED Talks, which aim for no more than 18 minutes!

Given this attention span, an hour-long speech means you have to gain your listeners’ attention with the opening hook, but then regain it two more times. The best way to do this is to present information in chunks.

Peanuts Comic - Lucy to Charlie Brown: "I have three hints for becoming a good speaker, Charlie Brown. You must know when to stand up, when to speak up, and when to shut up."

Break up the long presentation by:

  • inserting a video clip
  • including a breakout session
  • pausing to take and answer questions
  • sharing an example
  • telling a story

Any time you shift how you present information, you create an opportunity to reclaim your audience’s attention. Mix it up, and be creative in maintaining their focus.

3. Make sure you have a takeaway.

We can concentrate so much on what we want to say that we don’t consider what we want our audience to hear. But ask yourself:

  • What is the crux of what I want to communicate?
  • What takeaway do I want attendees to have?
  • What is the call to action?

Knowing your ultimate goal helps you decide which content to include and which isn’t all that important. It also ensures you organize your talk in a way that you end with the conclusion you want your audience to draw. Don’t make this presentation solely about what you can present; ask what information your audience could really use.

4. Practice, practice, practice.

When I wrote my first writers workshop, I thought it was in pretty good shape. But I decided to practice aloud. Thank goodness. I had included way too much information, my points meandered, and even I would have supremely bored if that had been the presentation I actually gave. But I made critical changes that refocused my content and felt much better about the result.

Look, once you stand up and present the way you would in the actual room, you get a far better idea of how things will go. It’s particularly difficult to know how long your presentation will run based on the script or outline you have on the page. Take the extra time to do a run-through and identify potential problems. Then fix them before you arrive.

5. Relax and enjoy.

If you’ve been booked as a speaker, your audience wants you to succeed. Those writers want to learn from you. They’re rooting for you.

Don’t picture them in their underwear (please), but do remember they’re human. Moreover, 20% of people report a fear of public speaking, so one out of five in your audience are already impressed that you’re up there and definitely want things to go well for you.

So try to relegate your nerves to a minor role, and let your passion for the subject and your camaraderie with other writers carry you through. In short, enjoy yourself.

What practical tips do you have to offer to writers preparing a presentation? What do you believe engages audiences best?

About Julie

Julie Glover writes cozy mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.

Julie is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. You can visit her website here and also follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

14 comments on “5 Tips for Presenting an Engaging Workshop”

      1. It's so funny. I dislike every "new podium" I meet, but I've gotten better about it through the years. I still get nervous in front of crowds, I just don't show it.

  1. As a long-time teacher of everyone's favorite subject (!), I learned early that there had to be a reason for my audience to listen to me beyond detention or Saturday School. It's hilarious that you posted this today, because I woke up thinking of a small group (30 or less) talk I'd like to give on plot twists--and I had the perfect opening hook. (Okay, it's a short topology lesson--with scissors!) Even more important, though, is to give your audience what they want in terms of takeaway, something they can use the next time they sit down to write.

    When I was on the national circuit because I'd co-authored a math textbook, I first took a magic class. I bought "props" and practiced slight of hand (can you say "ropes"?) for my opening hooks. They listened to everything, thinking that I was going to involved them in a magic trick again! But then, I love delivering covert lessons.

    Thanks for an archival post, Julie!

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