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Don’t “Start with a Bang” – How to Improve the Opening of Your Presentation

 

I knew it would happen at TEDxAtlanta.  I hoped it wouldn’t.  But it did.  Several of the speakers started their presentations with the old blah, blah, blah opening.  The blah, blah, blah opening occurs when a speaker starts her presentation by… thanking the event planners for having her… or thanking the audience for coming… or mentioning how nervous they are… or stating how the guy before them was a hard act to follow… or any other “blah, blah, blah” that the audience doesn’t care about.  The blah, blah, blah opening is all about the speaker and not about the audience.  Please don’t do it!

 

The two speakers that made my “top 2” (see yesterday’s post) did NOT start their presentations with the blah, blah, blah opening.  They just started… and in each of their cases, they started with a story.  But there are other ways to capture the audience’s attention in that critical opening section of a presentation – and that’s what we’re talking about here in this post.

Opening Your Presentation

Tell a Story

As just mentioned, both of my “top 2” speakers form TEDx Atlanta started their presentations by telling a story.  There’s just something about a story that draws us in as human beings.  From our ancestors sitting around the campfire to modern day television and movies and novels, people love stories.  Judge for yourself.  The next time you’re sitting through a sermon or listening to a business speaker and they start to tell a story that you haven’t heard before, observe how you react.  Do you perk up a bit?  Do you find yourself drawn in?  Then why not start your presentation with a story that will do the same for you and your audiences?!

Make a Startling Statement, Not a Tired Clique

“War is Hell but Sometimes Necessary”

That’s a quote from a poster I saw… when I was in the 8th grade!  (To give you a hint how long ago that was, I’ll being going to my 30-year high school reunion this year!)

I remember that quote from the 8th grade because it was startlingly different from any other poster in the classroom.  The poster belonged to one of my classmates who created it for a course requirement.  And I still remember it all these years later.

Cliques are boring.  Startling information stays with us.  If you make a startling statement – one that goes against traditional wisdom or flies in the face of boring old cliques, you’re going to gain the audience’s attention.   They may not agree with you.  But they certainly be tuned in  trying to figure out what the heck you’re talking about!

Share a Startling Statistic

“Mistakes in hospitals are the 8th leading cause of death in the United States… It’s like a 747 crashing every other day.”

That was a statement that a client shared with me.  Talk about shocking!  Do you think that statistic gained the attention of his audience?  It sure got mine!

What startling statistic can you share with your audiences?  How can you put it within the context of something they understand?

What Else?

What are some other ways that a speaker has gained your attention when opening a presentation?  How do you start your presentations?  Do share in the comments below!!

 

2 comments
kellyvandever
kellyvandever

You make a great point Tony. I like drawing in an audience with a story but you're right - it's important to tie the story back to the context of the presentation and why the audience should care.

tony loftis
tony loftis

Starting with a story helps, but I think you need to provide the context for the presentation as soon as possible. A little mystery creates excitement, but if you don't ground the audiences expectations early on, you'll lose them, regardless of your storytelling prowess.