3 Openers for a Great Presentation

You have to get in front of an audience to represent your employer, your team, your idea or simply yourself. All eyes will be on you and you’re not sure what to say to get off to a good start. You’ve done your homework. Maybe you’ve re-read Aristotle (for sure) and looked at argumentation and persuasion through proof. You know you need to focus on the 5 stages of invention (what to say), arrangement (order and structure of your arguments), style (word choices, tropes, clear expression), delivery (performance) and memory (this one needs no explanation – don’t forget to bring your slides 😉).

Or you remember from Marketing 101 that it’s all about knowing your audience. Understanding their interests and needs, their concerns, cultural idiosyncrasies, level of education, jargon.

Right. But still, where do you begin? And – more importantly – how?

People can lose interest quickly. What you want is to grab their attention and hold it. There’s probably little need to restate your full name and the topic of your paper. You’ve been introduced, everybody got the leaflet with the agenda. It’s also not advisable to jump right into dry, dense subject matter before putting your audience in the mood first.

So, how about one of these three suggestions instead:

  1. Lead with a question

Questions are usually quite engaging. ‘Ok, so how many of you have already (something topic-related yet surprising enough here)?‘  This creates a sense of affinity and brings some variety into an otherwise unilateral presentation. Questions make the whole thing interactive and people tend to perk up their ears. Especially if you can come up with something off the beaten track. The element of surprise is a great ally if you’re trying to awaken your audience from their standard slumber. What’s more, a question allows you to control and direct expectations – and your emotions – and to establish rapport. If you’re asking for a show of hands and there are none (oops, it looks like your question has fallen flat), do not despair. Improvise. A little spontaneity goes a long way.

  1. Fun fact/quirky statistic/intriguing visual (possibly combined with question)

Do you have any little-known fact that is likely to intrigue your audience? Something they haven’t yet heard or an interesting take on an issue from an unexpected viewpoint? Some weird statistic might do the trick. ‘Did you know that (eccentric, provocative or rare information)?‘ is a great way to establish a valued endpoint and hold your audience’s attention. If it’s something not many people know, it will make them feel special and give them a sense that they’re really learning something. Make sure your information is accurate and from a reliable source, though. There is enough fake information out there as it is, and spreading misinformation will reflect poorly on you (to say the least). How about starting your presentation with a cool and intriguing visual? An image that conveys emotion, or piques the curiosity. Something with the right impact for the occasion. A picture is worth a thousand words and people love to make sense of things.

  1. Tell a story

The ultimate way to fascinate an audience is to tell them a story: about yourself; about someone like them; or about something that happened to the personified thing, idea, or organization that is the topic of your presentation. People are excited to take a look behind the scenes and a personal narrative can help accomplish intimacy. Opening up on a personal level humanizes you and can make your audience feel more at ease. (As long as you don’t fall into the trap of opening with the same old story every single time; that takes all the fun – plus most of your credibility – out of it.) Beware of oversharing and keep it short and relevant. And even if you’re talking about something or somebody else: with stories there is always the mesmerizing promise of some kind of action, climax and resolution. There’s crisis, conflict, transformation. In other words, they’re less boring than most typical slides.

Remember that some of the most important elements of persuasion are liking, reciprocity and authority. Be original but authentic and believable, i.e. remain yourself. The best, most genial version of yourself.

In case you’re wondering, a little humor always helps to break the ice, unless it is culturally inappropriate (Germans are not the most inclined to crack jokes during business presentations, for instance, but they love a solid technical fact), embarrassing or offensive. Too much of a good thing can also turn sour. Don’t try too hard to be droll, constant wittiness is not sparkling, it’s tiresome and can make you sound frivolous (not trustworthy). At any rate, you can’t go wrong with Grice’s 4 Maxims of cooperative communication, which I’ve discussed in more detail here.

Speaking of speaking, do you know how the German, Romanian and Anglo-Saxon cultures differ in terms of presentation structure and expectations? For more in-depth consultation on intercultural communication patterns (with a focus on Germany, Romania, USA and the UK), contact YourTranscreator now.

#publicspeaking #presentation #rhetoric #interculturalcommunication