Lots of us tend to underestimate the potential ROI from a great presentation. If we absolutely have to do one, we default to PowerPoint and spend as little time as possible in development and preparation. Other communications tactics we’re working on are considered much higher priority.
Yet, most of us know that face-to-face communication is the top rung on the ladder when it comes to effectiveness. Mobile is awesome, but human beings still like to communicate in person. Think about that the next time you (reluctantly?) agree to make a presentation. Spend as much time as you need to ensure the desired effect. And, of course, the first step to that end is knowing what that desired effect is—ah yes, back to strategy. Set a goal for your presentation, just like you do with other tactics, so you’ll have some way to recognize whether you’ve succeeded.
I’m going to share some great advice from a new book called Own the Room, written by three experts on business presentations. It’s packed with good sense about strategy and useful how-to’s, but I’m going to focus on one aspect of the book—openings.
The best way to lose your audience in the crucial first 60 seconds of a presentation is to use a traditional, polite but dull opening aimed at everybody (and nobody). You know the kind: “Good morning. I’m Patricia Smith from the blah-blah organization. I’m delighted to be here this morning, and grateful to have this opportunity to talk to you about…..”
Everyone’s already looking at email on their phones or twittering that another lifeless speech has begun. Your opening has to get the audiences’ attention, and interest them enough in what you’re saying so they’ll stay tuned. As the authors point out, our brains are wired to pay attention to novelty and surprise–so use that knowledge. Be unpredictable—skip the tedious introductions and shake things up a little. Engage your listeners from the minute you open your mouth.
Here are three suggestions from the book about how to just that.
Ask a counterintuitive question
People may believe they know the right answer, but you then show them what the real truth is in a way that starts to frame the rest of your talk. The example given in the book is: “China has a history of disregarding copyrights. Of all the products whose copyrights are infringed where do you think the most violations are found?” Most people say movies or CDs. But you point out: “The number one copyright infringement in China involves Prozac.” From this opening you can move into the theme of your talk (trade, legal issues, depression, etc.) knowing you’ve gotten your audiences’ attention through surprise.
Make an attention getting statement
The example given is “Attractive people are more persuasive than average-looking people. How does this affect your business?” Again, from this opening you can segue into ways to level the playing field, aspects of persuasive speaking, etc. But you’ve gotten everyone to start thinking about how they fit into the attractiveness spectrum, and that engages them in your real topic.
Tell a personal story
Use the first few minutes to tell the audience something surprising or novel about yourself. Demonstrate why you’re passionate about your topic through a personal anecdote. Make it riveting, and full of visual details that help them see what you’re describing. People far prefer to hear a story rather than a lecture. Usually, we also find such stories more believable and memorable.
When using each of these techniques, the authors urge that you tailor your presentation to your audience. Generic openings don’t connect with anyone. To do that, you need to provide personal experiences, stories, concepts, or ideas in enough detail to make them interesting and relevant to listeners’ own experiences. Signal immediately that you know your audiences’ needs and expectations.
They also suggest that you reveal your personal values. Become a human being to your listeners, not just a speaker. (If that means revealing a small weakness they can identify with, go ahead.) Give them a window to your thoughts and feelings. If listeners feel like they know you, they are more likely to believe you.
And finally, the book encourages you to present your point of view on the subject. This helps your audience quickly understand your intention, context, and passion. The authors recommend that you picture your listeners with remote controls in their hands. Your job in the first few minutes is to keep them from flipping channels. Examples of a few great (and instructive) openings are included in the book.
Developing and preparing for a presentation—including one for a videoconference or YouTube—is a great opportunity to put all your communications wisdom to work. This book can help, as can many other books, blogs, and websites. Take the time to learn all you can about how to do good presentations. Your audiences will thank you!
CC photo credit: constantly-Jair
Own the Room is by David Booth, Deborah Shames, and Peter Desberg. I received a complimentary copy.