Everything before the story is to prepare for the story.
Everything after the story is to celebrate the story.
The Leader is the guide on this journey. One of the challenges of the Leader is to keep the participants engaged from beginning to end. All the traditional directions (like covering and uncovering the matzah, for instance) are just devices to help participants, especially children, pay attention and ask: Why?
Here are a few tips and preps for keeping them interested:
1. Present the Seder as a drama in which all at the table are actors. Create a Cast List to fit your Seder and place a copy on each dinner plate when setting the table. . Imagine how they will feel to see their names in print!
2. Participant preparation. If possible, let participants know a few days before the Seder what their role will be. Ask them to come with something to say about that, a short explanation or “dvar Torah”.
3. Place a small empty bowl beside each dinner plate. Leader has a large bowl of treats (nuts, candy, fruit). Reward all questions with a treat.
4. Use bingo cards. These can be introduced at any time, but most words should be from the Maggid section.
5. Prepare two gifts for every participant – one is a small inexpensive gift: a toy, silly glasses, etc. The second is a more meaningful gift: preferably a book. (See http://bestjewishkidsbooks.com for suggestions.) Gifts are especially important for young children. You will use these during Maggid.
6. Other props to prepare (for the 10 plagues): plastic toy frogs, a bag of salt (lice), slime (boils), plastic toy animals (pestilence and wild beasts), a ping pong ball and softball (hail), plastic toy grasshoppers (locusts), sleep masks (darkness).
7. Seating: If you have multiple families, best to seat families together. Children and parents will have a more meaningful Seder if they experience it together. You could create a separate children’s table in another room for eating the meal, but during the Haggada before and after the meal children should sit with their parents. Give everyone a pillow as a symbol of luxury and aristocracy.
8. Give everyone a cushion or pillow as a symbol of luxury and aristocracy.
9. Know your audience. Study the Haggada and plan to skip sections as needed. Pencil in names of participants you will ask to read certain sections.
10. Preparing for Passover is a lot of work. Some people have a “tradition” of arriving at the Seder exhausted. Take care of yourself and make sure you enjoy it. When the Leader is happy, it will be easier for everyone else to be happy!
Excerpted from the Art of Amazement Haggada: Leader's Edition. This Haggada includes tips and tricks throughout the text, including questions and answers on various details of the Seder. You can buy it here or download a pdf version here.