How do you open your presentation? Do you immediately capture your audience’s attention? You will if you start with a strong opening. In Hollywood, the opening of a movie is “the flavor scene.”I like to relate the first three minutes of a film to the first 30 seconds of a speech. Think of sitting in a movie theater and as the film begins, you elbow your spouse or friend and say, “Oh, this is gonna be good!” Now, think of an upcoming staff meeting, a report to your manager, a team meeting, or a talk you will deliver to a service club to promote your business. At the very least, wouldn’t you like your audience to sit up and think to themselves, “Oh, this is better than I expected. What an interesting approach!”
A story is one great way to open a presentation. Robert McKee, the screenwriter, said, “Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, more clear, more meaningful experience.” It’s certainly not the only way to open a talk, but you always need to include good stories within your presentations. For example, if you’re training staff, you can tell a story about somebody who is already doing something superbly well. We remember what we see and when we hear a good story, we can see our own version of the story. A story helps to make your message memorable. If you’re training people for whom English is not their first language, stories and examples are good ways to make your message easier to understand. Want a competitive edge? Tell a client success story in the client’s own words.
An interesting statistic or a little known fact is another good way to open a presentation. I challenge you to think about what your audience might be thinking as they’re walking in. I was hired to address 350 Seventh Day Adventist pastors. The subject was how to design and deliver a more charismatic sermon. Now, I imagined that even the most generous audience members were thinking, “She’s the only person on the program who isn’t a minister. How can anyone who isn’t a minister tell me how to write a better sermon? I write one every week. I bet she isn’t even a Seventh Day Adventist,” which, of course, I’m not. Imagine an audience thinking that about your presentation. Are they asking themselves, “How does she know?” or “What does he know about this?” If so, start your presentation with an interesting statistic or detail from their world that they probably don’t know.
I walked out to my Seventh Day Adventist audience and said, “In the Bible, it says, ‘It came to pass’ 465 times. It does not say, ‘It came to stay.’ And unless your sermon is well constructed, artfully crafted, and charismatically delivered, it will not come to stay in the hearts, minds, and lives of your congregation.”
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