About a month ago I was in a situation where I had 45 minutes to present our proposal for a complex 6 million dollar project. Have you ever found yourself in a high stakes presentation with a short time to deliver your message?
In situations like this you need to engage the audience quickly. We have likely all done traditional openings, “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, my name is Joe. I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to …” You know how the rest goes. The last thing you want to do is bore the audience at this key moment!!
There is some debate among presentation experts as to whether you need to grab the audience’s attention at the opening of the presentation, or if you already have their attention. Studies have shown that you have their attention for a minute or two at the beginning. When I present I try to intrigue the audience with my opening, hoping that they think “That’s interesting, where he is going with this?”
The experts describe a variety of ways to open a presentation; the most common methods include using a quotation, stating an interesting statistic, or telling a story/anecdote (telling a story is most often recommended). I like to use stories for my openings but finding the right one that links to your message can be difficult. And then there’s the challenge of keeping it concise AND interesting.
Listening to other presenter’s openings helps me sort out those challenges. The CBC radio program The Age of Persuasion (available as a podcast) has some of the best openings I have ever heard (www.cbc.ca/ageofpersuasion/ ). Listen especially for the great transition between the opening story and the main message of the program. At the start of each program I ask myself, that’s interesting, where are they going with this?
Refuse to be boring