Presentations – from Yawn to Yay

Esther Barrett shares her favourite tools and techniques for making your presentation interactive, engaging and accessible for your audience.

Have you ever wondered if your audience is listening or taking it in when you are delivering a presentation?

Why does your audience seem to glaze over, even though you tried to put every useful bit of information on your slides?

Have you attended a really interesting presentation and thought ‘I wish I could do that’?

You can make your presentations engaging and interactive by using a few free tools and simple techniques. At the same time you can help audience members who find it difficult to concentrate, or who don’t have the confidence to speak out in front of others.

Take a standard Prezi, Keynote, Google Slides or PowerPoint slide deck and drop in a couple of the following activities for a memorable and energising presentation that colleagues and audiences will be talking about for the rest of the day, and longer.


Image Barney Moss – Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)

Getting Started

All of the tools mentioned below are free or have a free basic version (freemium). Visit YouTube and search for tutorials if you would like to have a go and set one up.

Make sure your participants have a mobile device – a smart phone or tablet (they can share if necessary) – and that they have good internet access for maximum engagement.

All these tools can be used in a browser – no apps necessary.

Participants don’t need accounts for these tools – just enter a password or PIN and go.

Not all tools are accessible for everyone, so find out about your audience beforehand.

Practice with friends or colleagues first.


A poll can get a presentation off to a great start. How does your audience feel about your topic? What do they already know? At the end of the presentation you can gauge any changes in thinking, or get some feedback about your content.

Try Mentimeter for a colourful, visually engaging poll which displays results in real time as various charts or word clouds. In the free version you can ask two questions every time.

Another freemium tool, Poll Everywhere is a popular alternative, and also has a range of question types including multiple choice, ranking and word clouds.


Everyone loves a quiz, and you can energise the room with a well-timed snappy quiz which addresses some of your key themes. You can find out what people know, or what they have learned from your session.

Kahoot! is a firm favourite and brings a bit of fun and lively competition to the room. Participants can win points by answering quickly and correctly. It’s visually appealing and simple to set up and use.

Another favourite is Quizizz which is also easy to set up, with a sharable bank of ready-made quizzes and amusing memes in the feedback.

For a more sedate experience try Socrative which can be set to the pace of the presenter or the audience. Like the others, it offers a range of question types and instant feedback.

All these quiz tools generate an Excel spreadsheet with the results for you.


Audiences appreciate being able to participate in a presentation, whether by asking questions, posting comments and ideas or sharing links.

Backchannel Chat is a simple and easy way to do this and is always popular. Participants can post questions and comments, and share links with the room. The free version can accomodate 30 people. If you need unlimited participants, go back to Mentimeter for posting free text and Q&A.

Example of participants sharing ideas in Backchannel Chat in 2018

Lino and Padlet are both excellent tools if you want to get your audience collaborating and collating. The virtual sticky notes allow people to post text, links, images and videos. These can be organised into categories or left in freeform.

Set up a Tricider if you would like participants to address the pros and cons of a particular topic. They can add suggestions and comments, agree or disagree, vote on others’ ideas and make decisions.

Presentation tools

You might want your audience to follow along with your presentation in real time on their mobile device.

Zeetings allows you to create a slide deck or import an existing PowerPoint presentation. You can drop interactions in – a poll or a survey, links to websites, quizzes or activities, or videos. Participants can post messages to the group in a chat pane, and they have a personal notebook for the session. You can create five Zeetings in the free version. Nearpod, another freemium tool, has similar functions.

Slide design

Presentation slides are not engaging if they contain everything you want to say. Try using images instead of words. Scott Hibberson’s recent blog post gives some great advice about where to find free high quality images. Try not using a slide deck at all, and just include activities in your session. If you need a slide deck – make only one point per slide. Better to have lots of short interesting background slides than a few crammed, distracting or unreadable ones. You want the audience to pay attention to you!

One point per slide

Free image adapted from

At the same time – let the audience have your content in another format. You could put the script into notes and share it beforehand or afterwards. You could write a blog or make an eBook, by adapting the slide deck or making a PDF of your content. You could create a short video of the presentation using a built in tools like PowerPoint narration, free screencasting tools or create an Adobe Spark, Office Mix or Sway, for those who missed it or who want a recap. This could include a script and subtitles, for good access to your content during and after the event.

Go for it!

Using just one or two of these tools and techniques in your presentation will make a big difference to your audience, making sure everyone is engaged and no one is excluded. After all, you are doing it for them.

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