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  • Writer's pictureBarbara J. Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

What creates effective communication? Engage the audience in a variety of ways.


photos of engaged audiences

What creates effective communication? I propose 8 principles are involved. So far, we have covered three:

Let’s add principle #4 to that: Engage the audience in a variety of ways.


Why? Because a passive audience is much less likely to pay attention, understand, or act upon a message. To be effective, communication requires audience engagement.


What is audience engagement?

Audience engagement is the active involvement of the audience. It goes beyond passive listening to or observing of communication to thinking about it, talking about it, using it, and taking action on it.


There is no one best way to deliver a message or engage an audience. People learn best when messages are delivered using multiple methods. Use words, pictures, videos, graphics, stories, and more. Above all, include approaches in the delivery that engage or actively involve the audience.


How? Involve audiences with pre-assessments, ice-breakers, questions, polls, surveys, reflections, activities, games, and post-assessments. Create active learners.


To be an average communicator… give lectures, provide uninspiring readings, expect no engagement.

To be an amazing communicator, who effectively communicates… present messages in ways that enhance learning and promote engagement.


When people DO something and actively engage with a message, they are much more likely to pay attention, learn, and apply the message to their lives in meaningful ways.


Let’s look at ways we can actively engage our audiences.


What are strategies for audience engagement?

When we incorporate multiple learning strategies and methods for audience participation, we appeal to all types of learning preferences. Some people prefer group work, discussions, and experiential activities while others prefer independent problem-solving and reflection activities. All are effective. All engage the audience.


Some of the most popular audience engagement strategies include:

  • Asking questions – not to be confused with the Q&A – this is when the communicator asks the audience questions. Ask questions before, during, and after a presentation or any other type of communication. This can be done with surveys and polls or simply asking a question and requesting a show of hands or calling on people to respond. Questions in social media posts elicit comments and promote engagement between audience members and with the communicator. Asking and answering questions provides the communicator with useful feedback and promotes learning.

  • Audience participation – Request that audience members volunteer to demonstrate a skill, write down ideas generated in a brainstorming session, manipulate props, and more.

  • Brainstorming – This is a collaborative activity that helps with solving problems or generating ideas within an entire group.

  • Reflection activities – Encourage participants to think about what the information presented means to them.

  • Application activities – Participants apply the information in practical ways to their lives.

  • Partner and group activities – Numerous activities can be employed with partners, small groups, or large groups. Ice-breakers are activities that build relationships and trust and enhance further communication. Open with an ice-breaker. One popular partner activity is Think-Pair-Share, where each person answers a question, pairs up with someone near them to discuss their answers, and then participants volunteer to share with the entire group.

  • Teach Back activities – Participants are given the opportunity to teach their peers what they have learned.


These strategies are described in detail in Chapter 20 of Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide.


What are the action steps to create engaged audiences?

Consider your answers to these questions:

  • What communication strategies are available, appropriate, and preferred?

  • How can I design communication to employ a variety of effective approaches?

  • Have I provided multiple ways to engage with the message and put it into practice?


What does this look like in real life?

When I taught classes about child nutrition for college students or nutrition professionals, one topic we covered was a child’s natural apprehension in trying new foods and ways to encourage children and others to explore new foods. Simply talking about this topic had minimal impact.


I brought audience engagement to the rescue by engaging audiences with the concept at a level they could relate to. I accomplished this by obtaining several unusual foods the adult audience members were unlikely to have tried so they could put themselves in the young child’s shoes.


I asked for volunteers from the audience who identified as both cautious and adventurous food tasters and orchestrated a food-tasting experience while blindfolded. The tasters would describe how they felt as well as how the food tasted.


Depending on the size of the audience and the availability of food samples, the entire audience might experience and taste the unusual foods using the same approaches recommended for young children. This immersive experience far exceeded simply talking about reluctance to try new foods.


Your turn – how can you engage your audiences?


“Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.” ~ John Holt


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