If you are flying for the first time you probably pay close attention to the safety presentation given by the flight attendants. If you are a more frequent flyer, how much notice do you really take as they start the presentation? It is a sequence of information you may have heard many times before, and so you carry on reading your book or just relax and close your eyes. It is potentially critical information and yet familiarity tends to makes us switch off or at least struggle to maintain concentration.
When you are giving your next business presentation it is highly unlikely that it is the very first presentation attended by members of your audience. They have likely seen many business presentations. In the vast majority of cases they may well have started like this:
My name is ................
Today I am going to talk to you about .............
First I will .................
Now you can argue that there is nothing wrong with this approach. It is courteous, clear and gives your audience a taste of what is to come (see 'Do I really need my presentation agenda'). It is a tried and tested formula. But that's the problem. They say that 350 PowerPoint presentations are started somewhere in the world every second, and I'm willing to bet that most of them start in a similar way.
The start of your presentation is a peak attention moment. Your audience are curious and don't yet know what to expect. It is a great opportunity to stand out from the crowd and grab their attention. A very familiar start immediately reduces that attention peak. People switch off with the 'here we go again' thoughts associated with the many boring business presentations they have previously attended.
There are a number of presentation opening strategies that can be effective. Here are some possible ideas.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result."
A surprising statistic or fact:
It is estimated that 350 PowerPoint presentations are started somewhere in the world every second.
A story or Anecdote:
Steve Jobs started his 1984 introduction to the Apple Macintosh as follows:
"It is 1958. IBM passes up the chance to buy a fledgling company that has just invented a new technology, called Xerography. Two years later Xerox is born and IBM has been kicking itself ever since. It is 10 years later, the late 60's. Digital Equipment and others invent the mini computer. IBM dismisses the mini computer as too small to do serious computing and unimportant to their business. DEC grows to become a multi hundred million dollar corporation before IBM finally enters the mini computer market"
Starting your presentation with a joke or something humorous can be very engaging for your audience. However, please be aware that this is a HIGH RISK strategy. If no one else finds it funny, there is a terrible tumbleweed moment where you probably want to disappear. You must be very confident that the humour will work. Making your audience feel uncomfortable is rarely a good idea at any point in your presentation
Have a short, simple opening strategy that is strongly linked to the key message of your presentation. This is not about gimmicks, it is a way to grab audience attention quickly. You can still add an introduction and the social niceties if you wish to after your opening. You will have the most impact if you simply start your presentation with your opening saying nothing beforehand.
Become an engaging presenter.
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