Begin with a punch– The most important part of a presentation is the opening because it is during those few seconds that the audience votes—are they going to actively listen or tune out? You must grab their attention in order to engage them. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, however the most effective openings include:
- State a relevant, shocking statistic—one that will pique interest
- Start with the end, e.g. state the compelling conclusion first
- Share a personal experience that is contextually relevant and interesting
- Quote a famous person to establish your business point
- Ask a rhetorical question that underscores the importance of the issue
Optimize the experience– Consider the presentation a competition with yourself. The previous version of you may have kept the audience’s attention for a minute at most. The new you must engage the audience in order to hold their attention while you express persuasive, supporting facts. A Fortune.com article states that the average adult attention span has plunged from 12 minutes a decade ago to just five minutes now. Ernest Hemingway said, “Don’t tell me about it—show it to me.” Today’s audiences were raised on TV, so as The Articulate Executive author, Granville N. Toogood, has recommended, “…in a sense, become that TV by painting pictures.” Use nonverbal communication such as your voice intonation and volume, body language and drama (props, pictures, etc.) to enrich the audience’s experience.
Open up to other formats– Dale Carnegie said, “This is the day of dramatization. Merely stating a truth isn’t enough. The truth has to be made vivid, interesting, and dramatic. You have to use showmanship…And you will have to do it if you want attention.” Many presenters count on PowerPoint because of its familiarity and ease of use, however audiences are overly familiar with this format and tend to tune out quickly. Instead, try different formats that make a stronger visual impact such as Prezi, Easel.y or SlideRocket. Research has shown that 41% of U.S. employees would rather do their taxes or go to the dentist than sit through a slideshow, so if you do use slides, remember less is more.
Make it memorable – After a strong start and powerful presentation, the audience is ripe for retention. In order to make your takeaway worth taking away, summarize the key points of your presentation. If the goal of your presentation was for the audience to take action, implore them to take it by tying your conclusion to your opening punch. If the intent was to educate, state the results the audience can anticipate by applying the principles. For example, a person presenting breakthrough diagnostic equipment using new medical technologies would end by restating the benefits of their use and in this example, showing how it will help reduce the shocking statistic of the percentage of people who are misdiagnosed each year. Regardless of the content of the presentation, be sure to link the conclusion with the beginning.
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