Open And Close Your Presentations with Power

Psychologists have proven that the first and last 30 seconds of any speech have the most impact.

Psychologists have proven that the first and last 30 seconds of any speech have the most impact – so give the opening and closing of your talk a little extra thought, time and effort. Do not open with, “Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be here tonight.” It’s a weak, rather meaningless thought and it wastes too much of those precious 30 seconds.


Joking your way in:

Opening a speech with a joke or funny story is the conventional wisdom. Before you do, ask yourself these questions about your joke:

  • Is it appropriate to the occasion and for the audience?
  • Is it in good taste?
  • Does it relate to me (my product or service) or the event or the group? Does it support your topic or its key points?


Opening options:

A humorous story or an inspirational vignette, which relate to your topic or audience are sure ways to get an audience’s attention. However, it may take more presentation skill than you possess in the beginning. It’s safer and more effective to give the audience what you know.

A good way to open your speech is by giving the audience the information they most want to hear. By now, you know most of the questions you’ll be asked at a cocktail reception or professional society meeting. Well, put the answers to those questions in your speech. If you’re not sure what a particular audience might want to hear, talk to the program chair and get that information from him or her.

I helped a neighbor with a speech he was putting together for my women’s organization. He’s a senior scientist with Genentech. I suggested that since most of them don’t know what scientists are like or what they do, he should tell the audience what it was like to be a scientist. “Being a scientist is like doing a jigsaw puzzle in a snowstorm at night…you don’t have all the pieces…and you don’t have the picture to work from.”


Closing your talk:

The close should be the highlight of your speech. Summarize the key elements to the investment process, etc. If you’re going to take questions, say “Before my closing remarks, are there any questions.” Finish with something inspirational that proves your theme.

My scientist friend told our group of the frustrations of being a scientist and he closed by saying, “People often ask, ‘Why should anyone want to be a scientist?’” His closing story told of a particularly information-intensive medical conference he attended. The final speaker of the day opened with, “I am a 32-year-old wife and mother of two. I have AIDS. Please work fast.” My friend got a standing ovation for the speech.

However you open and close your talk, you can’t go wrong if you keep your audience’s needs in mind.

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