It’s my birthday and I was married 3 weeks ago. There we are – that’s a start!

Most coachees or participants on my training programmes say a version of this to me often: “…as long as I can get through the first 2 minutes of a presentation, then I tend to relax and know I will be OK.”

The issue is they may have already lost the audience.

It’s 6 minutes in, I’ve heard about your love of dogs, the history of your professional career including the paper-round you did as a teenager, and then you’ve talked through a bullet list of what you’re going to say. No. No. No. That bores people. Avoid bland. Blandness bores.

The Start

Primacy and recency. People remember the first things you say and the last words of wisdom in any presentation. So, it is critical you begin by capturing the audience at the start and then have a memorable finish, ideally including a call to action.

Often, presenters start blandly – “Good morning, my name is…” or “Hi there, I am pleased you are here…” or “Let me show you the list of bullet points I am going to cover…” (by showing you some bullet points).

When I train people, one of the key benefits they get is the opportunity to practise the start of their presentations, which should be about 10% of the time you have allocated.  IMO, this is how you do it:

First up, make sure you cover all your INTRO. A simple acronym and it covers:

  • Interest: What can you say or do to make your start interesting and compelling? Start with a rhetorical question, a controversial statement, an unusual statistic, a confession. Shock people, tell a story, start with humour if you are good at it and it is the right audience, use a prop, ask the audience to ‘imagine’.
  • Need: Cover off the why. Why should the audience be interested in your presentation? Some of the audience are sitting there thinking WIIFM – what’s in it for me? You need to address this right from the get-go. Use power words – increase, improve, save, solve, reduce.
  • Title: Create curiosity by coming up with an interesting title for your presentation. I have seen so many boring titles!
  • Range: Signposting is good but make it quick. What are you going to cover? – Ideally no more than 5 key points.
  • Outcome: Communicate the purpose of your presentation. What are you going to achieve for the audience by presenting?

Start with a SPIKE. A spike is a sentence or series of short sentences that gets to the heart of your presentation. An audience decides about whether your presentation is worth listening to within the first few seconds. Therefore, get to the point quickly. Using a spike is a simple and yet incredibly effective way of improving any presentation.

When I train people in presenting, I might say – “Presenters are made, not born. I’m tired of people telling me they are not naturally talented. Anyone can present exceptionally if they know how. Today I am going to give you the know how”. A business owner seeking investment in his telecomms business started: “50% of the world’s population have neither made, nor received, a phone call”.

Finally, cover off timings and how you are going to handle questions.

Do it this way and you will increase your chances of getting the audience engaged, motivated and ready to listen to what you have to say.

The Finish

Take questions if that is part of the presentation and then finish:

Summarise your key points: this will improve their recall.

Connect with the why again: remind the audience of the benefits of your presentation.

Give a call to action: be very clear in confirming what you want the audience to do as a result of attending.

Resist any urge to go into too much detail or finish with a simple thank you. Again – avoid boring people!

What is important is to finish strongly so that the audience is crystal clear on the key messages, why they are important and what you want them to do.

If you plan to take questions, do this before your final summary. If you get a tough question at the end you don’t want that being what the audience remember so finish with your summary and key points after the questions.

In my presentation skills training for ‘C’ Suite participants my final message is often:

“I started one of my books by stating that “business training doesn’t work”. The reason is that participants don’t take action as a result of attending. So, my final message to you is get out there and put into practice what you have learnt today. The only way you can do that is to deliver more presentations. Have fun along the way”.

Want to find out more about the other 11 Habits of Exceptional Presenters?

You can download my guide to the 12 Habits of Exceptional Presenters right here.

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