Audience participation techniques for Public Speaking online.


When you have a physically present audience in front of you, it is relatively easy to engage your audience into participating in your public talk.

You can ask a question, rhetorical or otherwise – either press on after a pause or actually call on someone who raised their hand to speak from their seat.

When appropriate you can invite members of the audience to come up on stage and engage in a conversation with you as part of your prepared speech.

You could get your audience to participate physically, by getting them to stand up, for instance. Or get them to speak with the person next to them and discuss something, then present their conclusions back to you or the rest of the audience.

And so on and on..

However if you’ve given a public speech to an online audience, you have likely come across severe limitations to the above techniques in audience participation.

Let us look at 3 fairly easy tools that we can use, say on Zoom or another comparable online platform.


1. Use the Chat feature

You can ensure the chat feature is enabled during your speech and you can still direct your questions to the audience and ask them to post something in the chat. “How many of you have experienced nervousness in Public Speaking? Say Yes, in the chat now…” It’s an interaction which is very simple, quick and involves your audience without complications. You could ask for suggestions, questions for the Q&A at the end of your speech and so on.

The Chat feature can be disabled when it is not desirable for the audience to interact with everyone present in the meeting, and re-activated at appropriate times during your presentation.

One snag can be if you are standing while delivering your speech and are too far from the monitor to read the chat posts. This can be overcome by appointing a “Chat Master” to assist you by reading aloud the posts as they pop up in the chat, when you ask him or her to do so.


2. Ask your audience to do something physically

You can ask your audience to stand up briefly and do something: stretch, take a step away from the screen and look in the distance, sing, shout, wave… anything to break the monotony, change the pace. Screen fatigue ensues when staring at a computer or other device screen for prolonged periods of time. Get your audience to have a “Zoom reset”. Give them a few minutes to get a cup of tea and bring it back to the online meeting with them.

It is easy to get the audience to do something if you are teaching them a physical skill, such as solo dancing for instance. It takes inventiveness to do so when you are presenting a public talk. Watch what other speakers do and get your own ideas from there on.


3. Use breakout rooms for workshop activities

You will find that when running workshops you can do the effective breaking up into groups in a similar way as with in-person meetings, with the use of breakout rooms (Zoom). The platform allows the host to create several separate virtual rooms and move groups from the audience into them. They are then able to complete team assignments apart from the other members of the audience.

The host can pop in and visit from room to room and continue to facilitate the discussions taking place. Once the time is up, the breakout rooms can be closed and everyone is back in the “auditorium”, virtually of course. At that point the findings of each team can be presented and a concluding discussion can ensue – at least for that portion of the workshop.


The above are 3 ways that you can get your audience involved and participating in your online public speech or workshop.

There are other ways, but these should get you going if you have not yet had the opportunity to use any or all 3. Why not get a couple of friends to engage with you in a practice run, online? Experiment, see what works and where the potential technical hitches can come in and present a challenge. Practice makes perfect, some say. Others prefer: Perfect practice makes perfect.

I believe in just doing it, over and over until it is perfect, or as near-perfect as makes no difference. Online Public Speaking may be with us for a very long time, perhaps forever in some way or another. Keep on learning how you can involve your online audience in your Public Speaking, stay on top of the trend!


Post by: Massimo

Vice President Education and Membership 2020-21
Immediate Past President
Tube Talk Toastmasters Club