How to Engage a Disengaged Audience
Have you ever waved to someone pointing your way at the grocery store, just to realize they were actually eyeing the bananas behind you? Or worse, have you ever said good morning to a neighbor, just to watch them totally ghost you from behind their mailbox? As an entertainer and professional emcee, that’s exactly what a disengaged audience feels like.
Sometimes, you hit the stage with the biggest, mightiest, warmest greeting you can possibly muster… and you hear about five people clapping in the audience. After psyching yourself up to step into the spotlight, a lukewarm reaction can feel pretty terrible. And for a ton of entertainers or professional event emcees, that lack of immediate response can seriously throw off your game.
The truth is, not every audience will be engaged right out the gate — and that’s okay! As a performer with over a decade of live experience under my belt, I’m here to tell you that a few crickets at the start of an event are truly not the end of the world. Instead, it’s a chance to really flex your muscles as a professional emcee.
Take a look at why some audiences might feel like they’re “just not that into you” and how a professional emcee can turn up the dial on engagement.
Myth Busting: Why an Audience is Actually Disengaged
Whether you’re a professional emcee, corporate entertainer, keynote speaker, or Las Vegas personality, you pride yourself in your ability to engage a crowd. So, when you perform or host in front of an audience with limited to no reactions, it can feel like you’ve really lost your mojo. Fortunately, that’s rarely the case.
In reality, a lack of engagement from your audience typically stems from the type of crowd you have before you. Of course, this isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with any crowd! However, different settings will naturally impart a different type of audience. I like to categorize audiences in one of two ways: a “sit and watch” audience and a “run on stage” crowd.
What’s a Sit and Watch Audience?
As the name might imply, a sit and watch audience does just that. They’re in the theater or the ballroom to watch, not participate. My fellow professional emcees who have their fair share of corporate crowds will know exactly what I mean by this one.
Corporate crowds are truly some of my favorites. However, they’re typically coming for a specific reason, like networking, growing their business, or tapping into new resources… not to see your comedy act. So, it’s important to remember that them not jumping out of their seats isn’t indicative of your performance, but of their priorities.
I can’t even count how many audience members I’ve had come to me and say, “Sorry we’re not a vocal group!” Or, they’ll grab me by the buffet table and say, “Thank you for taking the time to speak with all of us! You totally broke the ice!” Some audiences are more shy, but that does not mean they’re a tough crowd.
How Does a Run on Stage Crowd Compare?
If the “sit and watch” crew wants to watch from a distance, you can guess that a “run on stage” crowd is the type who wants to jump in and share the spotlight. Sometimes, you’ll have these eager audience members in your corporate crowds, especially if it’s a team-building event. More often than not, though, those who are itching to engage come for a dedicated show.
When I explain a “run on stage” crowd, I think of all the wonderful people who have paid to see my “Comedy in Action” headlining show with Caesars Entertainment, or my recent 10-show stint at the Excalibur Hotel & Casino. Those people came specifically to see me, to laugh, and to be part of the action.
There’s a clear difference between those who want to be a part of a comedy show and those who want a corporate event with a dash of comedy on the side. As a professional event emcee, it’s important to remember that you’re fitting into the context of an event and not the other way around.
How to Separate Yourself from the Stage
In all of my years as a performer and professional emcee, I’ve learned one really important lesson: To separate myself from the stage. Don’t be alarmed, trust you’re getting the real Jeff when you see me in action! However, there are so many different versions of the “real Jeff” for me to bring to the stage — juggler Jeff, chairman Jeff, professional event emcee Jeff, and more.
I know that when people come to see my show in Las Vegas, they’re paying for a ticket to see me. So, I love giving the audience a bit of background on my life, how I started juggling, and other personal tidbits. On the flip side, I know that when people interact with me as the professional emcee at a fundraiser, they’re present to raise money — not to see me. So, I set my emcee skills on high.
To a lot of performers, this might feel like a blow to the ego. To me, this just comes back to what I mentioned earlier; different settings will naturally impart a different type of audience. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a few tricks up my sleeve to engage an audience, no matter who they are and why they came!
4 Time-Tested Methods to Engage an Audience
If you ever find yourself in the spotlight with crickets in the audience, do not stress it. Remember that a good performer or professional event emcee can turn things around in a matter of seconds! Regardless if your audience is the “sit and watch” type or eager to jump on stage, here’s how you can engage a disengaged audience.
1. Rely on Your Experiences to Guide the Way
Experience provides you with the ability to pivot and adapt. Lean on your past interactions with crowds to judge how the audience is feeling. Are they confused? Bored? Think about what they need at that moment and how you can provide it seamlessly.
2. Poke a Little Fun at Your Own Expense
If I walk out to a less-than-raging crowd, one of my absolute favorite things to do is to poke fun at myself or the audience’s responses to me. While some might call it self-deprecating humor, I call it being relatable. This approach reminds the crowd that I’m human and am there to simply entertain them.
3. Always Come (Doubly) Prepared
While the typical rule of thumb is to come prepared, I like to say you should come doubly prepared. This means that if Plan A doesn’t have the response you expected, you have Plan B and Plan C up your sleeve. In my case, all of my plans are tucked into a duffel bag of props I bring with me on stage. This way, if there are no volunteers in the crowd, I have an entire backup bit planned.
This brings me to my next point…
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Pivot (And Trust Your Gut!)
Always, always, always have backup material in your pocket. No matter if an audience is doubled over laughing or dead silent, remember that you’re in control of where the show goes next. You’re the professional emcee! So, trust your gut and pivot when need be, relying on the experience I mentioned earlier.
Take a Cue from a Professional Event Emcee
No performer wants to walk on stage to a lukewarm reaction. However, it’s a performer’s job to crank those lukewarm feelings to piping hot. At the end of the day, how you’re received as an entertainer will have a lot to do with how you can read an audience. And how you interpret and interact with an audience will all rely on your personal skills.
If you’re dreading a less-than-positive reaction or don’t quite know how to work the crowd, take a cue from a professional event emcee. Learn how you can book me, Jeff Civillico, as your next professional emcee by dropping me a line today.