Command your viewers’ attention from the start with this guide to effective presentation opening…
Create a Rapport
If you’re able to place your viewers in a state of relative relaxation from the offset, they’ll be far more receptive to the ideas and information you plan to convey. By allowing your audience to perceive you as an individual as well as a host and subject-matter expert, you’ll add a valuable personal element to the viewer-speaker relationship.
So, instead of spending your opening moments fumbling with unruly wires or launching into your slide sequence, use the time to thank your viewers for their attendance and describe why the subject at hand is of such interest to you. With consistent eye contact and the occasional smile, explain why the topic should also be of concern to your viewers; if you can demonstrate how your ideas will make your attendees’ business lives easier, they’ll soon be convinced that you’re worth their full attention.
Use a Title Picture
As you deliver your opening spiel, use the background of your title slide to display an original image. Carefully chosen illustrations will allow you to capture your viewers’ imagination and prepare their minds to absorb the information that will follow. If you’re delivering an academic presentation on the subject of Greek mythology, for example, a contemporary map of the Mediterranean might lend your audience a valuable sense of historical and geographical context. On the other hand, if your business pitch is focused on next year’s expected sales figures, you may wish to merge your company logo and your commerce stratagem into a single, thought-invoking diagram.
Let’s say, for instance, that your logo consists of a silhouetted stallion rearing up before the evening sun. Why not label the different sections of the logo to represent your separate strong points? The horse’s back could symbolise the strength of your infrastructure, its head your Marketing brainpower, its hoofs your front-line customer service staff, and the sun your shareholders, showering you with bright investments.
Not only will this approach show off your imaginative nature, it will also convince your audience that you genuinely believe in the plans you’re about to propose.
Provide an Overview
It’s a fact that an audience’s concentration level tends to be at its highest at the beginning and end of any given presentation. With that in mind, your opening is the ideal opportunity to grasp your viewers’ attention and to convince them that, in return for their interest, they will be rewarded with a valuable new understanding of the topic at hand.
So spend a few moments giving a detailed explanation of the matters to be discussed and emphasising the importance of your talk. Elaborate on the ways in which the knowledge you’ll share will benefit your viewers in their daily lives, and lay down a concrete timetable involving breaks and the scheduled end-time. Listening takes energy, and you’ll find that the audience – not all of whom will have attended your talk by choice – will better prepare themselves to remain energised if they know in advance how long the presentation will last.
By making an early reference to a distinguished figure of your field – and demonstrating the commonalities between their methods and your own – you’ll gain credence as a trustworthy adherent to reliable, tried-and-tested techniques. If you’re presenting on the subject of telecommunications, for instance, you may wish to make reference to the works of Steve Jobs, former Chief Executive of Apple Inc. Or, if yours is an educational talk based on the Industrial Revolution, you may wish to make use of a quotation by a well-known historian.
Tell an Anecdote
If you open your pitch in an overly business-like manner, you’ll run the risk of permanently losing your viewers’ attention. Even the most serious presentations can benefit from a pre-slide story – particularly if that story contains an emotional element that will help to create trust and rapport.
Whilst your anecdote should remain relevant to the topic at hand, don’t be afraid to use analogy wherever it might help to express your point. And, remembering that the whole aim of your anecdote is to stir interest and optimism, you’ll want to make sure that the story has a happy ending – finish on a bleak note and all you’ll end up rousing is a sense of perpetual weariness.
If you’re able to radiate confidence and enthusiasm from the very beginning, your viewers will be far more willing to accept that you really do know what you’re talking about. As a result, they’ll be prepared to lend you their full attention, and reflect on your arguments with a more open mind.
A great way to exude passion – even if it’s not altogether authentic – is through the use of subtle, self-assured body language. Speak at a conversational pace with your head held level with the audience, unfold your arms and allow your feet to carry you across the stage as they please. The physical activity will keep your viewers alert, and your mind in tip-top shape for expanding on the points you make. The expression “thinking on your feet” has never been more true.
Your hands, magnificent communicative tools that they are, can be used in conjunction with your words to help influence the audience’s mood. Upward-facing, open palms, for example, are often interpreted to suggest honesty on the part of the speaker, while a hands-behind-the-back posture will usually indicate strong self-confidence. Whatever you do, though, keep those hands away from your lips; hand-mouth gestures can imply shyness, fatigue or, worst of all, downright deceit.
Cite an Achievement
By using your opening to draw attention to a previous business or personal accomplishment, you’ll both demonstrate your wealth of knowledge and give weight to the information that follows. For maximum effect, always remember to provide a thorough context for the achievement in question. So, if you’re detailing your company’s laptop sales for the last financial year, don’t forget to show the importance of your figures by giving a breakdown of the worldwide laptop market, and comparing your share of it to that of your competitors. This will allow the audience to grasp the significance of your accomplishment, and to appreciate the thinking behind any future goals that you propose.
By George Dixon
Need creative ideas to keep your audience on their toes throughout? Try reading our comprehensive list of original suggestions …
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