Grab the audience’s attention at the beginning of a presentation — Start differently
“Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Ákos Gerold and I am a…. Today, I am going to first tell you about…. Then, we will move on to…. And finally we will look into…. So let’s get started.
The above, or a variation of it, is how speakers often start presentations.
However, this type of beginning is frequently very bad.
After all, introducing yourself is basic courtesy. Giving your background establishes authority. And sharing an overview of what the audience will be listening to in the coming 20/30/45/60 minutes can help them to orienteer themselves within the presentation.
It’s bad, nonetheless, because it violates the Novelty Principle.
Whenever we meet someone or a new event, presentation or in general anything new is starting, we tend to pay more attention simply because the person and/or the situation is new.
The window of heightened interest created by the novelty effect is unfortunately very short. Some researchers put it at 60, others at 120 seconds.
Irrespective of which it is, if we waste it by sharing details the audience already knows (after all, nobody goes to either an in-house or external presentation without knowing who will speak and about what), the small window of opportunity will close. And once it does, it’s very difficult to open it wide again.
So to grab the audiences attention from the moment we open our mouths on stage, we need to do something different. Something that few people do. Something that captures every audience’s attention.
We need to start with the audience!
Nobody can resist listening to someone talking about them. Their problems. A challenge they are facing. By doing this skilfully, you are raising attention levels very high as soon as you start your presentation. Much higher than you could ever by talking about yourself. Or about what you will cover in your talk, which, without having been linked to the audience’s pain point, will lack the necessary context for showing how important it is for them what you will be covering.
So the key word in this initial step is Attention -- the most precious commodity a speaker can receive from an audience.
Once you have raised the audience’s attention, it’s a good idea to tell them how they will benefit from what you will share with them. How will the next 20/30/40/60 minutes solve the problem you grabbed their interest with at the beginning. After all, who doesn’t want to find out about a possible solution to their problem. The key word for the second step is Benefits.
Next, and at long last you will probably think, it’s time to introduce yourself and share why you are an authority on your topic. The audience does need to know you are an expert, otherwise why would they believe what you are saying. But remember to keep this part as short as possible.
After having lifted the audience’s attention level high by talking about a thorn in their side and having kept the level high by saying they will learn how to pull the thorn out, if you talk too long about yourself and your achievements, you run the risk of sending their attention into free fall. Unfortunately, we are not as interesting to others as we would like to believe. The key word for the third step is Credentials.
And the final step in introducing a presentation is giving an overview of what we will be talking about. It is crucial here to keep the overview short and high level to avoid spoilers. So the key word for this last step is Direction because you give the audience the direction your presentation will be taking.
In short, in the introduction for your presentation, it’s a good idea to stick to the ABCD sequence:
Naturally, as with every rule, we need to approach it critically and adjust it to the situation.
For example, if someone will introduce us before we start, then we can leave out the Credentials.
Or if sharing the Directions early on would spoil the discovery element in a presentation, which can be a crucial element in your storytelling, then it’s best to simply skip tit
In short, the ABCD sequence helps you stand out from the crowd, grab and raise the audience’s attention and keep it high.
Since the four steps in the ABCD sequence merit longer explanations and examples, I will be devoting separate posts to each in the coming weeks.
When did you deviate from the typical way most presenters begin their talks? Why did you do it? What was the effect? I would love to hear the details.
If you find the ideas in this post interesting, drop me a line. Share what aspects of your presentations you would be interested in improving. And I’ll be happy to cover it in a post.