Great presentations have great openings

Strong presenters spend a significant portion of their time creating an opening that is memorable and focused on benefits important to the audience.

Openings are so important that you should consider spending half of your time creating a presentation to make the opening great.  Here are a few suggestions how to do that:

An opening is the only time in your presentation when you will have the most of your audience’s attention. Within 30 seconds that attention span starts to erode…quickly. It comes back sporadically, but it only stays a few seconds.  So, if you only have them for a minute in the very beginning, you need to make the most of it.

We are all nervous when making a presentation, and probably more nervous in the beginning. If you can develop a great opening, one that you know backwards, one that you can’t wait to unveil to the audience, those nerves will be replaced by pure energy.  That energy will carry you through the rest of the presentation. And, it will buy more of your audience’s attention span.  If you are interesting and exciting, they are all ears.

The opening also is the time to tee-up the big idea that you might be presenting. It’s certainly the time when you will be establishing your important takeaway—the one thing you want the audience to remember when you are long gone from the room.  If you do it right, when you establish the takeaway you will then use the rest of the presentation to demonstrate why that takeaway is so important to the audience.

By creating a presentation with a strong takeaway and then building a logic chain from the opening to the rest of the presentation, you have also created a presentation that doesn’t require lots of memorization.  Once you establish the takeaway the rest is just an exercise in logic.  When you don’t have details to remember, you will be more comfortable and a lot more confident.

Finally, the close of a presentation should echo the opening.  People often have trouble writing a close in a presentation. It’s an evasive kind of thing.  But, following this pattern, the close almost writes itself.

For all of these reasons, you need to invest heavily in a compelling opening.

Those are the reasons why you should have a great opening.  Here are some suggestions of how to make a great opening.

First, establish what it is that you want the audience to remember from this presentation.  The takeaway.  Then, repackage the takeaway so that it is a benefit for the audience.  For example: your takeaway is that your company now has never-before-seen software that streamlines employee payroll record keeping.  You can tell the audience that information, or make it easy for them and translate that information into a benefit for them: using this software you’ll need less people, less process and less cost to handle employee record keeping.

Once you figure out what the takeaway is, give lots of thought—lots and lots of thought— to how you will communicate it.  Will it be a story?  Will it be some important statistical revelation (imagine if you can reduce employee record keeping by 81 %!), will it be a testimonial?  Whatever the device is that you use, hone it, perfect it, and work on it as if it is the entire pitch, not just the opening.  The reality is that the opening is your whole presentation.

Rehearse your presentation in front of other people a few times, but really focus on the opening.  Rehearse and refine that until it becomes awesome; until strangers who hear the rehearsal stop in their tracks and want to buy whatever it is you are espousing.

Now, you need to deliver the opening. This is another pitfall for people.  If you agree with the premise here that you only have 30 to 60 seconds of the audience’s undivided attention, then you need to get to work right away.  You need to get to your opening as soon as you get settled in front of the audience.  The mistake people make is they use that time for chit-chat. They thank the audience for having them. They tell a joke. They discuss the agenda for the presentation. They review the team that will present today.  None of these things are of any interest to the audience. The audience only cares about what is in it for them.

Get to your prepared opening as soon as you step up.  After you have wowed them with the opening and they are now clear on what the benefit is to them, feel free to review the agenda and the team that is on hand.

The great opening will carry you through the whole pitch right to the end. You’ve done it. Now the audience will be crystal clear on what it is you are presenting and motivated about why they should be interested in it.

Congratulations. You were great.


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