First of all, there were five tables set up in the room with three chairs each. Immediately, you have the possibility of dividing audience members into "teams" and thereby fostering healthy competition and collaboration. Each audience member was handed a folder with three short packets of information. Additionally, links were posted on the walls about the room and, during the session, a video was shown. You've now given the audience many avenues to obtain information about the product. Here's an opportunity to see how much your attendees can learn on their own. Empower us. Give us the opportunity to put the pieces together for ourselves. And, in the process, add a friendly competition. One of the first items introduced was the concept of a common language. A number of terms were placed before us with the question, "What do these mean?" Instead of telling us, let us hunt for the answers. Award points or a prize or candy (yes, material rewards aren't always the way to go, but teachers like candy too!) to the team that figures out the answers fastest. Once a winner has been announced, open a discussion about the answers. That way, we have some ownership of the material. Now you have an audience that is more invested in what you are presenting.
Another route would be to open by asking us to roleplay students and go through the assessment as such. In fact, the questions could even be about the assessment itself. Let us learn by doing. Give us scores at the end. Again, that gives us some ownership and vested interest in what you have to say. I'm more willing to hear what you're saying if I have some personal connection to it. If I receive a score, but I have no idea what that number might mean, I'm going to pay close attention to your explanation. Throughout your presentation, I'm going to keep that score in my head and use it as a base point to explore other options. If you want to up the ante, give me a partner (or again, teams at the tables) and have us discuss what the scores mean for us and what we would do as teachers to effect more individualized instruction for these "students." Bring it back to a full group and share ideas. We are now using your product and have a deeper understanding than the surface knowledge gained through passive listening.
These are just two simple examples of how to engage the audience. Talk with us instead of talking to or at us. This is something to remember as teachers as well. No matter the audience, people want to be engaged. They want to be involved. They want to be empowered. And, when they are, they show better retention for the material. Give people a reason to care about the information.
What do you do to avoid a park and bark? Leave your ideas in the comments below!