Dare You Play ‘Classroom Chicken’?

We’ve all experienced it, a presenter, lecturer or teacher desperate to engage with a disinterested or sleepy audience trying harder and harder to get a response out of them. “Come on class – can anyone tell me why X equals Y…. anyone?” Cue deathly silence, awkward shuffling or outright smartphone-cocooned denial. Like a stand-up comedian who has lost the crowd but without the potential relief of amusing hecklers.

Congratulations – you’re playing ‘Classroom Chicken’!

Like its highway namesake, your audience are seeing how long they dare stand in the road before the car comes. Only in this version, it’s you the lecturer who has the car crash not the audience.

The truth is, it’s always difficult to hold people’s attention and even the most dynamic presenter can have A Bad Day at the Lectern but what can be done to stop a bad day becoming a regular phenomenon?

What audiences, especially younger people, respond well to nowadays is interaction to keep them interested. Even the word ‘lecture’ itself has come to mean a presenter talking at you rather than engaging with you.

Do you ask your audience the sorts of questions that cause hands to fly up or are your questions right-or-wrong death-traps?

Do you resort to picking on random audience members when no response is forthcoming or do you get to know class members by name so they feel like there is a real rapport?

Technology isn’t a panacea and sometimes presentations just have to be a one-way-street but audience polling systems like ParticiPoll can be a great way to create a two-way dynamic and get people talking with their peers. They can also anonymously flush out opinions, misunderstandings or sheer “help I’m lost” panic without embarrassing individuals.

Hat tip to Lynnette Matthews and Mark Goodwin of University of Leicester for their insights into how to hold an audience.