Imagine a presentation that opens with the speaker saying, “So I’m standing in line at a department store the other day, minding my own business. All of a sudden…”
Curious what he’s going to say next? Then this presenter has done his job well. He’s got your attention right from the beginning of his talk.
Now let’s try another approach for opening a presentation.
“Well, thank you, everyone, for being here at our quarterly status meeting. I’d like to thank our executive director, Bonnie Jacobson, for allowing us to use the main conference area. Thanks also to Martin Ellory for his help with…”
I know what you’re thinking: Where’s the door?
Master speaker Jeffrey Gitomer, in his book Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Green Book of Getting Your Way, advises that you begin your presentation with a story. In fact, Gitomer argues, you should start in the middle of a story. That way, the audience feels the need to keep up, to listen to every word. In other words, by launching immediately into a story, you’ve compelled your attendees give you their attention right from the beginning.
Most speakers begin their presentation by thanking people. The audience, for attending. The executive, for allowing everyone to attend. The event organizer, for putting it together. Matt, the audio-visual wiz, for setting up the equipment. Blah. Yawn. The audience grows bored and restless before the speaker even has a chance to make her first substantive point.
This is counterintuitive, I know. You’d think thanking people – at least your audience for being there – would be the polite way to start your presentation. But your audience is far more interested in being engaged and stimulated by your talk than they are in your being polite.
Besides, for most business presentations, your attendees have to be there anyway. So thanking them is silly. By doing so, you give them the chance to say quietly to themselves, “Yeah, like I had a choice!”
Most professionals have attended so many boring, waste-of-time presentations that they desperately want to be engaged, intellectually stimulated and even entertained by your presentation. Starting your talk with a compelling story or anecdote – one that’s relevant to your presentation’s topic – is a great way to win your audience over from the beginning. You’re also reassuring them that they’re in good rhetorical hands and can expect the rest of your presentation to engage them as well.