Presentations do not have to start with introductions to introduce participants to each other.

Presentations do not have to start with introductionsIt’s a Myth:
You don’t have to start with introductions to introduce participants to each other.

It’s a dilemma faced by presenters all the time.  How can we personalize our presentations and create a feeling of safety and comfort for our participants by letting them know others in the audience?  I’ve often thought, I know how important it is to let audience members introduce themselves but there’s no time, no space and perhaps; no real desire on their part.

Presentations provide a wonderful opportunity for audiences to make connections with others; to network with participants who share similar interests, challenges, reasons for joining this session and in the case of training presentations; come from similar companies or job roles and responsibilities.  Members of our audiences often have better, more relevant stories about the topic or content we’re presenting than we do.  What an opportunity for us to “mine their gold” that is; leverage the wealth of knowledge and experience before us in support of the content of our presentations!

So, how can we and other audience members get to know who is in the audience without taking precious time for each person to introduce themselves?  Here are 3 ways.

Have We Covered the Globe? (or Country or State Or City) Exercise
As participants arrive for the session, have a PowerPoint slide, poster or tent table with instructions to affix a cutout person, star or dot on the large map at the side of the room. They should place their image to indicate where they live, work or what area they represent. You can follow up later in the session by referring to the diversification of participants represented leverage the commonalities by asking people in each group to further introduce themselves, etc. Segmenting the audience helps participants identify others with common interests and with very different preferences or experiences.

Variation:  Use a cutout that represents another way to segment your audience…i.e. medical professionals, parents, teachers, students  OR writers, educators, editors, designers OR Human Resources, Sales & Marketing, Procurement, Administration.

Stand If This is Your Exercise (groups of 10-500)
After you’ve introduced yourself, ask that audience members respond to your statements by standing or remaining seated.   When you read a statement that is true for them or they agree with, they should stand in their place.  If the statement doesn’t resonate with them, they can remain seated.  Begin with a fun, timely, relevant, and local (if possible) statement specific to your particular audience to ensure participants understand your instructions and to engage them immediately with something light.

An example would be something like, “The Green Bay Packers should have played in this year’s Super Bowl.” or “Katy Perry is an incredible entertainer.”   (Can you tell I’m writing this the day AFTER the 2015 Super Bowl?)

Your statements then begin to relate to your content.  If you’re helping a group use LinkedIn to find a job, your statements might be:

•    I have a LinkedIn account but haven’t looked at it for months.
•    I have at least two recommendations for each position listed on my profile.
•    I have updated my status at least once per day this week.
•    In the last month, I’ve participated in professional group conversations at least, etc.

In a presentation about your new book dealing with stages of grief, your statements might be:
•    I’ve experienced the death of a family member or close friend recently.
•    I support families who’ve experienced death in their families.
•    My new job will require working with children who’ve experienced the grief of loss due to divorce, etc.

Variation:  They can simply raise a hand rather than stand but this doesn’t take nearly as much focus on you and your statements.

Not only will your audience members learn more about those who are participating alongside them, YOU will learn a lot about your audience, what they already know and a bit about their experience with your topic.

Team Problem Solvers Exercise  (small group introductions)
If participants are seated at round tables or can easily be split into small groups, give them a simple problem to solve that relates to your content. This could be a quote missing some letters or a multiple choice question with a startling statistic displayed on a PowerPoint slide.

Ask individuals in the group to introduce themselves to their problem solving team as they work to arrive at a solution.  Ask your audience to regroup themselves to solve another relevant problem by segmenting them based on interests, roles or responsibilities, experience with the topic, etc. While they many not meet everyone in the audience, they will meet several new people intimately.

How have you introduced your sessions and allowed people to get to know and become comfortable with their fellow participants?  Please leave a comment below.