3 Openings for More Effective Presentations

Hello, my name is Maria Keckler… and I want to talk about…

WAIT, don’t leave!

That’s actually NOT how I want to start this conversation, and neither should you the next time you deliver a presentation.

Imagine Sheryl Sandberg opening a keynote with

“Hi, my name is Sheryl Sandberg. I’m Facebook’s COO. I’m here to talk to you about…”

The Bad News

You have less than ten seconds to move people’s attention from their phone or preoccupations to your message. If you fail, they may not re-engage again.

Your audience, like the rest of us, is drowning in information, marketing messages, emails, and social media posts.

Your next presentation will either add to the noise or will make your audience look up from their Facebook feed and hear what you have to say.

Yes, you have a choice.

The Good News

The good news is that it’s not that hard to stand out, as many people think.

See, few presenters and communicators today take the time to even think about how they will grab their audience’s attention.

To stand out, take a few minutes to plan an opening that will command attention.

Here are three tested openings that will work every time:

1. Parachute In with Your Story

Credibility is presenter’s gold, and story is the bridge that connects your credibility to the audience’s hearts and minds.

Take the late Rita F. Pierson. She influenced thousands of audiences around the world as a professional educator. In her wildly popular TED talk, she opens with a brief story describing her 40-year experience in education—with a two sentence story.

“I have spent my entire life either at the schoolhouse, on the way to the schoolhouse, or talking about what happens in the schoolhouse. Both my parents were educators, my maternal grandparents were educators, and for the past 40 years I’ve done the same thing…”

She makes it look easy, doesn’t she?

Tip: Chances are that you have a business testimonial or a personal anecdote that is relevant to the content of your presentation? Write it out first. Then begin to cut the fat until you can communicate the essence of that story, powerfully and succinctly.

2. Acknowledge the Elephant in the Room

Let’s face it, sooner or later an audience will come with a preconceived idea about you, your presentation, or your topic. Admiral William H. McRaven knew that when he delivered his commencement address at the University of Texas at Austin.

Thirty seconds into his speech, he admits that among the things he remembers from his own graduation ceremony is the fact that he doesn’t have a clue about who the commencement speaker was… and that he can’t remember anything he or she said.

“…if I can’t make this commencement speech memorable, I’ll at least try to make it short.”

The audience responded with hearty laughter, and he went on to surprise them by delivering a memorable and inspirational presentation that has since been circulated around the world to inspire students, entrepreneurs, and professionals.

Tip: the next time you face an audience whose attention may be held captive by an elephant in the room, acknowledge it and then surprise them like Admiral McRaven did.

3. Ask a Question

Questions help audiences turn their focus from their preoccupation to the topic at hand quickly. Whether you ask a rhetorical question or whether you invite the audience to respond by raising their hand, questions force audiences to engage.

That’s what Harvard Professor, Michael Sandel, helped his audience do when he asked,

“What should be the role of money and markets in our society?”

Tip: Think of a question that will get your audience focus on your topic? Give it a try.

Bringing It All Together

As you prepare for your next presentation, put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Become their advocate by doing your best to bring them into the conversation as quickly as possible. Remember that they probably attend dozens of presentations every month, most of them opening with “Hello my name is…”

  • Lead with a brief story and watch their eyes meet yours
  • Address the elephant in the room and gain their attention and credibility faster
  • Ask a question and move their thinking towards the topic at hand

Let’s make a deal: let us not join the ranks of boring and forgettable presenters who prefer to play it safe. Instead, let’s think of a better way to start the conversation and begin the journey towards converting critics into fans or skeptics into believers.

Published by

Maria Keckler

The curator behind Communication That Converts™, Maria is a corporate consultant, helping organizations ignite movements of employees who love coming to work, customers who love coming back to buy, and stakeholders who love spreading the word about the company. She's a keynote speaker and author of Bridge Builders: How Superb Communicators Get What They Want In Business and In Life.

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