5 Ways to Start Your Presentation Off Strong

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Starting-Line I’m sitting here watching my beloved Boston Red Sox kick off the season against the Yankees.  This may end up being the most exciting game of the 162-game regular season.  What a way to start the season off strong.

Earlier in the night I was sitting on my couch, just waiting for the game to start.  I was anxious, excited, and nervous all rolled into one.  How would the Sox start the season?  Would they start with a bang, blowing out the Yanks?  Would they stumble?  How would the season turn out? (Hopefully better than last year)

Now that the game has concluded with a Red Sox victory, I got thinking about the way a presentation should start.  As Dr. John Medina, author of “Brain Rules”, noted, “You’ve got seconds to grab your audience’s attention and only minutes to keep it.” Your audience is expecting a lot from you, the presenter, so you certainly want to start your presentation off with something powerful.  Otherwise, their attention will be dropping off quickly and you may lose them completely.

When crafting a presentation, be aware of how you open.  Below is a list of a few ways to start your presentation off strong, but it’s certainly not exhaustive.

  1. Personal story – This can be extremely powerful and memorable.  I just wrote about a presentation I attended that opened with a great story, tying the entire presentation together.
  2. Joke – Be careful with this though.  Make sure its topical, appropriate, and actually induces laughter.
  3. Video – You may want to briefly preface it to create some familiarity between you and your audience, but this can be very powerful when done effectively.
  4. Thank your audience – Why not start by thanking your (often paying) audience?  It’s the equivalent of complimenting your date and handing her flowers as soon as you pick her up.  Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but everyone likes to feel appreciated.  If nothing else, Garr does it!
  5. Ask a question/Start a conversation – I recently heard a presenter start his presentation by asking how many audience members hate when they are asked a question by the presenter.  It was funny and got me thinking.  Asking a question can be effective but it can also be annoying when the same question has been asked over and over again, most often at a conference where audience members sit through many presentations per day.  At the SES Conference in New York, I can’t tell you how many times we were asked how many of us used social media tools.  Instead, think of it as starting a conversation.  Maybe that begins with a question, but actually engage someone (or a few people) in the audience in a real (albeit short) conversation that ties in with your presentaiton.  Ask them a few questions to try and make your point.  (Make sure one of those questions is what their name is.)
  6. Reader Submission – Denis Francois Gravel – I would add an other one to your excellent list. You can start with a strong affirmation that surprise or shock the audience. Imagine a speaker starting like this: “According to statistics, 8 people  in this room will lose their jobs in the next year. I will give you 5 tips to avoid being one of them”. Would you listen to what he have to say?
  7. Reader Submission – Phil WaknellGive them something to look forward to. “At the end of this presentation, I’m going to make an astonishing announcement, and you will be the first people in the world to hear it”, or perhaps “When you leave this room, you will have a completely different way of looking at technology”. You’ll have got the audience’s attention – just be careful because you need to meet their raised expectations.

Let me know some of the ways you use to grab your audience’s attention in the comment section.

Image courtesy of Jon_Marshall on Flickr

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