One of the things I have always found embarrassing when I have attended talks is having to take part in discussions I had not expected or having to think of my favourite thing to write on a little piece of paper that has been handed to me or am asked by an artist or psychologist to go to the painting table and produce a picture representing my emotions on waking that morning. These are just a few examples of odd things that can be inflicted on unsuspecting audiences.
When I go to a workshop, I expect to have something to do, in fact it would be a poor workshop where those attending had nothing to do – the word says it all.
However, when attending talk, I am expecting to sit back and be taught about something. If you are speaking of writing poetry, for instance, do not suddenly expect your audience to write a poem when they have come totally unprepared to do so. If you want audience participation, it is best to ask that the session be called a workshop, which gives prospective attendees an idea that they will have to do something. I have known instances where members of an audience have said afterwards that they are embarrassed by such things and will never attend another talk by that speaker.
Audiences expecting to be passive can be quite upset by being expected to be active. If you want to do a workshop, make sure that the group you are going to knows this. You could have some of your audience walk out on you, which is embarrassing. At least, give them warning at the beginning and say that you’ll understand if people do not want to take part. If you do this, don’t make this audience participation too long. They have come to hear you and might feel cheated, especially if you are given some form of remuneration.