“You never get a second chance at a first impression.”
While that phrase is typically about relationships, it’s true for business presentations as well. Yes, the first 30 seconds of your presentation are the most important 30 seconds.
How do you make the most of this critical time? How do you not just grab your audience’s attention but build a foundation for maintaining it?
Here are my do’s and don’ts of presentation openings.
1. Do — Have a routine
One of the easiest ways you can help yourself get off to a strong start is by developing a consistent routine. That’s why Serena Williams bounces the tennis ball exactly five times before her first serve — every first serve.
Now obviously speaking involves delivering content, not a tennis ball, and that content isn’t going to be the same for every presentation. But the way you approach your speaking from a physical point of view should be consistent, allowing you to focus entirely on what you are saying and how you are saying it.
For example, if you frequently speak in front of podiums, create a routine that you stick to. Decide what you will be doing with your hands, how your feet will be balanced, etc. Ideally, you will be able to familiarize yourself with the room before it’s time to present — but having a consistent routine will help you regardless.
2. Don’t — Try out your open mic material
You know how critical it is to grab your audience’s attention right away. So, you might be tempted to start with a joke. Great idea, right?
First of all, getting an audience to laugh is much more difficult than you might think. Getting a laugh requires much more than a great joke or anecdote: You need impeccable timing.
In addition, the audience just isn’t ready to laugh right away — they’re not “warmed up.” Overall, using humor in presentation openings is just too risky.
However, if you insist on telling a story that involves some humor, at least make sure the humor is not self-deprecating. The audience wants to see you as a strong leader, not as someone to pity.
3. Do — Get to the point
The best way to get your audience’s attention is to show that what you’re saying is relevant — and to do so immediately. Don’t spend time going over background information or “showing your work.” Just get to the point.
Context is important, of course, but save the details for later. Give your audience the most relevant, need-to-know information right away.
4. Don’t — Try to be too profound
Don’t try too hard to wow your audience with some deep insight. The most powerful speakers command attention with their simplicity, not their complexity.
Many people feel that starting off with a thoughtful quote is a great way to get your audience’s attention. This approach can work, but resist the temptation to choose a quote that is especially complex or wordy.
A quote may look great on paper but it might sound convoluted and irrelevant when you deliver it. Overall, when it comes to presentation openings, simplicity wins out more often than not.
While it’s possible to recover from a weak start, why make your job harder than it needs to be? By focusing on having a strong opening, you will achieve much more impact with your audience.