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How to Start a Presentation: Set Yourself Up for Success

Categories: Business Presentations

According to one recent study, human beings tend to make a first impression in as little as seven seconds after entering a new situation. To take that idea one step further, there is even research to suggest that people start to make a determination on traits like trustworthiness within just a tenth of a second.

First impressions are crucial because you can ultimately never make another one. Once someone forms an idea in their mind of who you are, it’s tough to change it. For this reason, it isn’t just important to make sure that you start your presentation off on the right foot -- it’s critical!

Make a Good First Impression

Your appearance, body language and general demeanor create an impression before you ever open your mouth -- sometimes subconsciously.

With that in mind, here are two ways to ensure your visual message creates a positive first impression:

  1. Dress for Success: Wear clothes that are appropriate to the situation. What will the audience be wearing? Dress about one notch up from that. If you are speaking at a conference, ask the organizer about the color of the backdrop. If it’s navy blue, and you show up in a navy blue suit, you will virtually disappear.
  2. Positive Body Language: Pay attention to the messages you are sending with facial expressions and body language. A nervous expression may be perceived as irritation. Regardless of how you feel, make eye contact with your audience and smile with your eyes. Keep your body language open and approachable.

Get to Know Your PAL™

Before you get up in front of the audience, or even create your super-engaging opening, take some time to understand your PAL™.

PAL.™ stands for Purpose, Audience, and Logistics. Let’s look at each element in some more detail.

Purpose. Your purpose is the reason you are giving a presentation. We always ask coaching clients their presentation purpose. One response we received was, “I have to speak for 30 minutes before everyone goes to lunch.” That’s not a purpose; it’s a logistic.

Here are some questions to help you identify your purpose:

  • What do you want your audience to know, feel, or do?
  • What specific result do you want to achieve?
  • What information must be conveyed to the audience?

Audience. Every presentation involves an audience. It could be your manager, a prospective client, or your colleagues. In order to effectively hook your audience, you need to know who you are presenting to and what interests them.

Understanding your audience will help you engage them from the beginning and throughout your presentation.

Here are several questions to consider about your audience:

  • Who is in the audience?
  • What are their roles?
  • Why are they attending your presentation?
  • What are their demographics?
  • What is their attitude toward your objective?
  • What knowledge do they have already?
  • What knowledge do they need?

Once you understand your audience, you can plan an opening that appeals to their interests, values, or priorities.

Logistics. As we mentioned above, logistics includes how much time you’ll have and where your presentation fits into the larger context. If your presentation is right before lunch, people might be hungry – or anxious to check their email if they’ve been in a conference all morning. How will you adjust your presentation to address these distractions?

Logistics also includes the size of the room, number of people in the audience, and equipment that will be available. All of these play a critical role in how your presentation will be received.

Here are some logistical considerations:

  • How much time do you have to present? Make sure you don’t have 45 minutes of content for a 30-minute session.
  • How interactive will your presentation be? The more interaction you have, the less material you can cover. For a highly interactive session, plan to speak for only about 25% of the session; for moderate interaction, 50%; and for light interaction, 75%.
  • Will there be a Q&A during or after your presentation? Build in time for it.
  • If you’re part of a panel, what will the other speakers be discussing? Consider how your part will complement the other panelists.
  • How large is the audience? The audience size will impact your delivery dynamics as well as your approach to interaction.
  • What time of day will you be speaking? It’s hard to keep an audience engaged right after lunch or at the end of the day. If this is your spot, be sure you have some audience interaction, not just lecture.
  • What AV equipment do you need? What will be available? Bring extra cords, slide advancing remote (clicker), and anything else you need. Be prepared to speak even if all equipment fails.

Grab Their Attention

How many times have you heard a presentation that started with: “Hello. My name is John Smith and I’m happy to be here today.” Yawn. Even worse, have you heard speakers start with, “Hi, my name is Jane Jones and I’m not used to presenting so please bear with me.” Yikes. Here comes an hour of awkwardness.

Does anyone care that you’re happy or scared to be here today?

Does anyone even care what your name is? Maybe if it’s Oprah Winfrey or Brad Pitt, but most of us don’t have the benefit of creating excitement with our name.

The first few sentences of your presentation will let the audience know whether they want to hear what you have to say or would rather get back to their Facebook feed.

Follow the four-step introduction format below to not only grab attention but also establish your credibility (regardless of your name) and let them know why they should want to listen to your presentation.

  1. Grabber. Grabber statements can be rhetorical questions, surprising facts, or a poignant story that is relevant to your message. Utilize the knowledge you have of your audience to tailor your grabber statement for maximum impact. For example, if you are a marketer speaking to a sales audience, try sharing a story about how a new marketing campaign influenced a client to expand their service agreement. (Notice that the grabber statement does not include stating your name and current emotional state.)
  2. Source credibility. Next, establish your credibility; especially if you are presenting to a group that is not familiar with you. However, even if your audience knows you, they may not know your specific expertise related to the topic. Why they should listen to you talk about this topic? Are you a subject matter expert? Do you have impressive certifications or training? Have you published research – or read the research? Your credibility may also come from someone else. For example, you may have worked closely with someone the audience respects. Keep in mind, source credibility is another component that is impacted by your audience. What is credible to them?
  3. What’s in it for them (WIIFT). Let your audience know how your presentation will benefit them individually. Do they have a need that your presentation will meet? Will your presentation help them be more successful? By communicating with your audience's WIIFT in mind, you have a better chance of holding their attention from the beginning -- and for the duration of your presentation.
  4. Preview. Let your audience know the overall layout of your presentation. Some presenters like to create a bit of mystery around their topic. They want their audience to wonder, “What will he say next?” While this approach can work in some situations, generally it is easier for your audience to follow your message if you give them a roadmap. You’ll also want to let your audience know if you will take questions throughout the presentation or at the end.

Congratulations! You’ve captured your audience’s attention and can now continue with delivering an excellent presentation.

If you’d like to learn more about how to powerfully start your presentations, please contact BRODYpro today.

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