Audience interaction, particularly
onstage participation, helps grab
your group’s attention, paint a clear
picture, add humor, make a memorable
point, and bring variety and depth to your
presentation. Onstage participation is powerful because it is completely relevant and
personal. The stakes are high, but the opportunity to make a lasting impact is great.
Brad Montgomery, CSP, and Vinny Verelli
are two masters of stage participation. Brad
is a playful, nurturing, motivational speaker,
humorist and corporate comedian and
wildly successful with stage interaction. His
main goal is to reassure the stage participant that he or she will be fine.
Vinny Verelli plays a New York Italian
likened to the “Tony Soprano” of motivational speakers. Although both speakers are
completely different, they both take care
of their participants. As an audience member you don’t want to fail, look stupid, be
unpleasantly surprised or be unjustly
ridiculed. Here’s how two pros “safely”
engage participants before, during and
after the show.
Brad’s advice is to physically connect with
your participant before bringing them to the
stage. Build trust and comfort by taking their
hand and leading them up to the stage.
Whisper to them “It’s going to be okay.” This
gesture is both functional so the audience
doesn’t hear and allows the participant to
feel special because the message wasn’t
broadcast to everyone. In addition, a whisper communicates trust.
Vinny bribes, warns and basically gets an
agreement from the volunteers before they
hit the stage. For one of his activities, the hat
game, he says: “I’d like some volunteers. I’d
like eight men who aren’t afraid to take
chances, who laugh in the face of adversity or anyone who wants a copy of my
book . . . Autographed.” When participants
accept this challenge, he has more permission to be playful. Because participants
are receiving a gift, they are expecting to
give something back, their participation.
After all, they are volunteering and not
being plucked from the audience, which
reduces any chance for error.
During the stage activity, Brad directly communicates with the participant to let them
know they are “doing perfect,” while also continuing his show with the general audience.
Put yourself in the participant’s shoes: You
are on stage, but the presenter is not
acknowledging you. Thoughts may pop
into your head like, “Am I done? Did he forget I am on stage?”
It can be confusing and stressful. Brad
pleads,“Don’t treat your participant like
Vinny, on the other hand, tells the audience this is going to relieve a lot of the stress
for the audience, but is going to be stress-
ful for the particpants. He simultaneously
warns them and raises the excitement and
anticipation in the room. He always gives his
participants an escape by saying, “If anyone is having second thoughts or is not up
to this, there are no hard feelings” and
allows them to retreat to their seat.
After the stage interaction, both Brad and
Vinny applaud their participants and thank
them. Vinny rewards or bribes them with a
prize. After the program, Brad seeks out the
stage participants to shake their hands and
thank them, as well as saying to their friends,
“She was great, wasn’t she?” This personal
interaction also can head off any issues if a
participant was not okay. This gives you a
chance to intervene and solve problems
before it gets back to the planner. Brad
ensures his success before, during and after
the encounter by being sincere and keeping the participant informed. Vinny warns,
prepares and offers escape routes to his
Keep in mind, you may not want to integrate onstage participation when you have
a short amount of time, a small or odd
space in which to work, physical restrictions,
and/or limited information on your audience. Overall, though, the payoff is big for
this high level of interaction. Just make sure
to treat your participants respectfully and
make them the star, not the butt of the joke.
Jolene Jang is the Fun Specialist LLC. She
can be reached at
(425) 489-1073 or