Closing your presentation is perhaps the most important part of your presentation. And probably both the easiest and the shortest part. …
“How should i open my presentation?” is a question we get asked often. Getting your audience to accept you as a speaker who’s worth listening to, within the first few moments of your presentation, is a major reason for creating a good opening for your talk.
Getting them to believe that your presentation is going to be interesting, and therefore getting them to listen to you in a positive frame of mind, is a key to your success as a presenter.
As you will know from any presentations you’ve listened to, we tend to judge speakers immediately we see them, even before they’ve said anything: the way they look (confident, strong, organised, friendly, or nervous, disorganised, uncertain, cold), and how they walk to the front, or appear on our screens. And then how they stand; how they take up their space. And how they look at us: is it with a warmth and a smile, or a grimace. Or maybe they choose not to look at us at all, but head down and gets on with it.
So, we can appreciate the importance of that first impression as you walk in, or appear on the screen. Then, what you say usually comes next on the list of things to get right if you want to get off to a good start.
What could you say to open your presentation positively?
What might that sound like?
A formal opening might sound something like:
“Good morning, my name is Walter Blackburn and today I want to speak to you about presentation skills and how important they are in a career these days.”
Nothing wrong with that, technically; it’s clear and short. But it’s not really engaging; there’s no life in it. And, unfortunately, many speakers with that sort of opening then don’t get into the heart of the talk very quickly. There’s often a tendency to ramble on, in this case, about presenting or public speaking. Even, if we’re unlucky, more than a few minutes about the speaker’s background, or how interesting the topic is to the speaker.
Right at the beginning the audience wants to know three things:
- what they are going to hear,
- why that’s important, and
- why you are presenting.
It’s as simple as that. They also need to have a relationship with you, as the speaker, but like any relationship, that can develop as you get into the talk. Much better to get on with the ‘juice’ of your talk; give them some value up-front. Then that’ll remove some of the, possibly negative, judgement that inevitably they’ll have about you.
You will want your audience to be thinking: “we want to hear this…” and ideally, if you were to walk off just after your great opening, they would clamour to have you back because they want to hear your presentation.
If that’s what you choose then my recommendation is to use an approach called KICK. This stands for:
Keep them interested by telling them what’s coming next:
This is a powerful way to open as it will immediately wake up the audience to what’s coming, why it’s important to them and why you’re the speaker. It will take their minds away from their judgement of you, and how you appear to them.
Using the example above I might change it in this way:
“Good afternoon [pause]. Becoming a good presenter could be a vital part of your career development”
“Wherever you are in your business, whatever your role, almost certainly at some point in your career you will be asked to present to a group, probably of senior people. Do it well and your success will be noticed. Fail to do it well and it will probably affect your career adversely”
“I’m Walter Blackburn – I’m founder of Presenting Success and for 40 years I’ve taught thousands of people how to present well, in all sorts of organisations, around the world. I know what it’s like, as a young man, to fail at presenting. And I now know how to succeed and how to help others to succeed”
Keep them interested by telling them what’s coming next:
“This afternoon I want to share with you some of those secrets, and show you how easily you can manage any nerves you may have, how to manage your material, handle the audience well, and truly become a great presenter. [pause] I’ll be speaking for about 15 minutes then there’ll be a chance for questions. Let’s start by….”
Let’s explore that opening
The first part deliberately has the greeting: ‘Good afternoon’ and then a pause. This simply gets the audience to tune into your voice. It will take them a few moments to do that. Remember what it’s like listening to someone you’ve just met who has a very broad regional accent? It will take you a moment to get in step with them: your brain needs a moment to tune in. And it’s like that with presenting to an audience. If they don’t know you, they won’t immediately tune into your voice; they will need a moment to get familiar with your voice. If you don’t give them that opportunity, your key message, may be lost. If they’re still getting used to your voice while you’re giving them the key message, they may not hear it.
But if you greet them in some way, then pause, and then give them your key message, they are more likely to get it; you should then have their favourable attention.
The second part, the importance, is also important, because it tells them why they should be listening; it tells them why you’re speaking to them. You’re raising the level of importance of the topic in their minds.
Then your credibility. This is not your career resume! It is a very brief statement of your name, your role, and why you are qualified to speak. If you have many qualifications over many years, choose the most relevant one or two to share.
Then, keep them interested by telling them what they’re going to hear, how long it’s going to take and when they can ask questions. Finally, we use a ‘bridge’ to the presentation; in our example the bridge is “so let’s start by…..”
The point of this opening is that it tells the audience what they want to know, but it also gets them into a listening frame of mind, eager to hear what’s coming next. This is in contrast to many openings where the audience are mentally wondering when the speaker is going to get on with it, and how long is it going to be!
Your KICK opening should be less than 90 seconds, or in that time frame. It will need planning and probably quite a lot of thought, particularly to uncover the Key Message and its Importance. And then to write it out, word for word; and then to learn it, word for word, so you can look into the audience’s eyes and say it with clarity, confidence and with a feeling of conviction.
In some ways we’re suggesting that you open your presentation in the middle of it, or even the end of it (your key message?). In the same way a great storyteller will take us into the middle, or even to the end of the story, before bringing us back to the beginning.
However, this is not the only way of opening.
We’ve probably all been wowed at some time by a speaker doing something incredible at the beginning of their talk. Maybe because of the clothes they’re dressed up in – a bear’s costume, maybe – or what they’ve brought out of a suitcase. There really are no rules about openings. Unless, of course, you’re presenting to a very formal organisation like a local authority, a parliamentary committee, or maybe to a court. And even then, you may choose to make an impact in a different way.
Lots of possibilities.
- Tell a short story – something from your own experience is good – see one of mine below…
- Use an object (or lots of them) – oranges, mobile phones, the windows in the room, your wallet, a credit card, a 4-legged stool. From each of these you could make a point linked to your key message. Some rules for using objects – keep them hidden until you’re ready to use them; hold them high so everyone can see and give them time to see it; speak to the audience, not the object; then put it away when it’s time to move on
- Ask a challenging question – “how many of us have no idea whether the notes in our wallet or purse are genuine?” – and then you’re looking for a show of hands, to match your raised hand
- Make a challenging statement – “university education is a waste of time [pause] so say some who’ve never been to university”
- Use a video clip – this must be short – even 30 seconds is a long time for video these days – and it must be dramatic, to make a point, and it must link strongly to your topic
- A piece of music – as above for video
- A dramatic slide – an Indian colleague who had to present to a South American audience opened with a photo of a tiger walking down the street. He said that’s what people expect when you speak of India, yet he’d never seen a tiger outside of a zoo. And he spoke briefly about what it’s like in his city. It got his audience onside for his technical talk because he brought his humanity into the talk.
An example – How to open my presentation using a true story of good customer service:
“Good afternoon. I want to take you back a couple of years. I’m living in Oxford and I believe I need some new tyres on the car. So I drive to my local tyre dealer – National Tyres – and say to the manager – ‘I think I need 3 new tyres’. He says, ‘well, let’s have a look’. He walks around the car checking the tyres, comes back to me and says ‘no, you don’t, they’re all ok’. I’m astonished. Here am I offering to buy 3 new tyres and he’s telling me I don’t need to. I’m delighted of course, and 9 months later when I do need new tyres guess where I go for them. Of course, I go back to the National Tyre Company, because of that man’s honesty.
Today I want to speak about Great Customer Service, and how important it is. I guess actually we all know that, and, also I guess, we’ve all had experiences like that. Equally, I’m sure we’ve all had the reverse of that experience.
I’m Walter Blackburn, Founder of Presenting Success, and recently I’ve been making a special study of customer service and I’m going to bring you my findings and my thoughts in case they may be of value to you in your business.
This afternoon I want explore the idea of Great Customer Service in the next 30 minutes, what it looks and feels like, where it comes from and how we can achieve it more often. Because we all know what the reverse looks and feels like, and the impact it has on us.
Let’s start by thinking of some of the examples of great customer service that we’ve individually experienced. Please just call them out and I’ll jot them on the board…..”
Notice that after the story come the elements of the KICK opening – the key message, the importance, my credibility, and keeping them interested, by getting them thinking and involved.
So, it’s up to you how you open.
Experiment with different openings; make more of an impact, because you can if you choose to. Get them onside quicker.
Finally, one more thought about body language, and it’s to do with your eyes and your smile. When you first stand strong at the front, or sit upright in front of the screen and look up at the audience, pause for just a moment, and before you say anything, look around at them all with a warm smile, greeting with your eyes and your smile, just for a moment. Then you’re ready to begin.
Whichever way you choose to open your presentation you must plan it carefully; how you appear and the words you use will be very important: they will be listening to your every word, once they’ve accepted you as a speaker. Then you must practice saying it, out loud, until you can say it with energy and conviction, as you look into the eyes of your audience members. And that self-assured and warm connection will surely be one of the things your audience will love about you as a speaker!
Then you’ll get off to a great start!