Imagine a Steve Jobs keynote opening with “Hi, my name is Steve Jobs. The name of my company is Apple” Or Howard Schultz opening a presentation with “Hi, my name is Howard Schultz and I’m here to talk to you about Starbucks.”
Boring and not very engaging.
Yet, thousands of business presentations going on today will start exactly the same way, despite the fact that the audience already knows who the presenter is. And that’s a shame because the few seconds at the beginning of a presentation are critical to determine whether your audience will join you mentally or not.
Think about it. Audiences may be with you physically, but you don’t know whether they’re with you mentally.
Successful business presenters build bridges to the hearts and minds of their audiences immediately. “Hello my name is…” just won’t do. Instead, consider these three alternatives:
Leverage the Power of Story
Rita F. Pierson 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 only two sentences.
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…”
Do you have a business testimonial or a personal anecdote that is relevant to the content of your presentation? Start there.
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.
… Acknowledging that fact,” he 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 relevant to any audience.
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.
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?”
Can you think of a question that will get your audience on the same page with you? Give it a try.
As you prepare for your next presentation, put yourself in your audience’s shoes. They probably attend dozens of presentations every month, most of them opening with “Hello my name is…” Don’t join the ranks of boring and forgettable presenters who prefer to play it safe. Instead, think of a better way to start the conversation.
How about you?
Do you have additional ideas to nail the opening of a presentation? Join the conversation and share them with us.