Most presenters begin their presentation in the usual manner…
“Hello my name is Fred Flintstone and I am here today to discuss technology in pre-historic times.”
While your name can be very interesting (especially to you), it is not a very compelling way to begin a presentation. I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but when you begin this way, audiences usually forget your name and worse yet, they forget YOU!
A great way to begin a presentation is with an attention-getting device that will get the audience EXCITED about listening to the rest of your presentation. Some of the best ways I have found to capture the audience’s attention are:
1. Rhetorical Question – A rhetorical question is a question to which no response is needed. Rhetorical questions are designed to be thought provoking, rather than answered out loud. An example of a rhetorical question might be, “If you were trapped on an island and could only have three things, what three things would you choose?” Not only does the audience begin thinking about how they would answer your question—they wonder how this will tie into the presentation (which by the way, it must) and suddenly—you’ve got them!
2. Relevant Story – Beginning a presentation with a story that directly relates to the topic is another great way to get the audience’s attention. A good story engages our audience’s hearts and minds and immediately draws them in. Make sure that the story is short (using a long story in the introduction can compromise the flow of the presentation) and makes a strong point. Here’s an example of an introductory story used for a presentation on the benefits of a 24 hour Nurse Line. “All of us have had frightening medical situations where the help of a registered nurse could come in handy. Let me tell you about a young mother, Marie, who was terrified when her two-month old infant son Sam woke up screaming in the middle of the night. He was burning up with a high fever and Marie didn’t know what to do. So she called the Nurse Line and they directed her to put him in a cool bath to bring his body temperature down. They stayed on the line with her until she was comfortable that she could handle the situation herself. Imagine having that kind of support available to you at all times of the day and night.”
3. Startling Statistic – A startling statistic can be great opener. For a presentation on drunk driving, you might begin with... “In the 30 minutes it will take for me to deliver this presentation, one person in the U.S. will die in an alcohol related traffic accident.” When using statistics, round the numbers, site your sources, and be sure to present current and accurate information.
4. Analogy – An analogy compares the known to the unknown, helping the audience better understand the unknown. When properly developed and explained, an analogy can be an interesting presentation opener. Here’s an analogy example... “Continuing to use this technology is like being on a lake in a rowboat full of holes—instead of patching the holes, all your time is consumed with scooping the water out of the boat.” You may not understand the technology, but now you know unequivocally, that it is like a sinking ship!
5. Humorous Anecdote – Humor is one of the BEST ways to win an audience over and get them enthusiastic about you and your presentation. Humor enhances the audience’s positive perception of you. When an audience laughs with you, chances are good they are also FOR YOU! The safest type of humor is stories or anecdotes that are uniquely yours. The problems you had traveling to get to your presentation make humorous presentation stories. Your dinner disaster is always good for a presentation laugh. One reminder worth mentioning--only use humor when you can relate it to the subject matter—irrelevant jokes are not suitable presentation openers. Here’s an example of a humorous anecdote… “There is nothing more humbling than the honest opinion of a five year old. I was feeling really good about this outfit this morning (even preening a little in front of the mirror) when my five year old daughter came up to me and said, mommy, are you going to wear that table cloth to work?”
6. Curiosity – Provoking the audience’s sense of curiosity can also help you capture their attention. When we are curious about something, we tend to listen more closely to see how it works out. The TV news trailers you see during Prime Time television often use curiosity to try to entice you into staying up and watching the late news. “Tonight at 11:00, find out what vitamin combination can save your life.” In the presentation realm, you might use a more subtle tactic, “Today, I’m going to tell you three important things that I guarantee will change the way you do business forever…” Because they are curious, the audience will pay close attention to see what those things are.
7. Gimmick – The sole purpose of a gimmick is to capture the audience’s attention, so it makes sense that beginning with a gimmick is a good strategy. An example of a gimmick might be… A presenter who is going to speak about the benefits of a paperless office begins the presentation by dramatically crumbling papers and throwing them away. He/She then asks the audience to throw away all the paper that has been planted in front of them. Note that everyone loves a gimmick, as long as it is in good taste.
Remember, incorporating a good attention getter into the introduction of your presentation can mean the difference between being MEMORABLE or FORGETTABLE.
Debbie Bailey is a well-known Presentation Skills Consultant and author of the book "15 Presentation Secrets - How to WOW Even the Toughest Audience," available at www.trainer2go.com/ebooks.html. For more information about Debbie, go to http://www.trainer2go.com.