Presentation Skills: Content: Great OpeningsBlast Off to Big Results: Openings Set the Tone
When you stand up to speak, you have no guarantees that your audience will listen intently to your every word. We all know that behind those "I'm-all-ears" looks, your listeners' minds can wander. Think about how much your mind has wandered during other people's presentations!
You can't gain support, sell ideas, or push a new initiative if people aren't listening. So, it's your job to shatter that fixed facade, grab your listeners' attention, and hold on tight. You have to earn their attention right from the beginning of your talk. Here's how:
Plan. Plan your opening words carefully. Don't stumble into your presentation with a hackneyed "Today, I'm going to talk about..." Say something meaningful (even bold!) that will grab the attention of your audience immediately. Don't lead up to it with trivialities. Think about your audience's single biggest concern within your topic, and speak directly to it. There are a lot of different ways to open a talk; just make sure you choose one that begins with substance and matters to your listeners.
Rehearse. Stand up and deliver your opening out loud several times prior to the talk. Make sure you can do it comfortably and reliably. For most people, the first words of a presentation are the hardest. Make certain you know yours well enough so you don't have to worry about them. By spending extra rehearsal time on your opening, you can turn the hardest part of your talk into the easiest.
Get ready. When the time comes to deliver your presentation, you will want to be focused, in control of your voice, your body language, and those pre-presentation jitters. So, before you stand up to speak, practice some "stage fright" prevention. Use our tips for breathing easily to warm up. If you have a chance to exercise or go for a walk before your presentation, do it. It's important that your mind and your body are ready to deliver a powerful presentation when you arrive in the room.
Connect. Make an immediate connection with your audience. Look 'em in the eye. Before you begin, find a "focus person" for your opening. The focus person should be someone who is sitting toward the back of the room and roughly in the center. Ideally, this should be a person who will listen attentively and will be a friendly face for your first sentence or two. Remember to establish your eye focus first, then take a fresh breath, and, only after you have a full tank of air, begin to speak.
Leap. As much as possible, jump right into your talk. Get right to the point. Try to avoid any long preambles or explanations. Deliver your opening just as you've practiced it, right to your focus person. Once you've landed your opening, the rest of your presentation is more likely to go smoothly. And, you will have gained the attention of the audience right from the start of your talk.
Stop ... and go. After you deliver your opening, pause. Let your words sink in for a second or two. Next, link that opening to the body of your presentation. Make sure your audience sees how your opening leads into your first point. There's nothing worse than gearing everyone up with a great opener, only to let everyone down by wandering off on other track.
And they're off... You delivered your opening and linked it to your first point. You've set the stage for your success. You've got momentum heading into the body of your presentation. You're out of the gate and rounding the bend. Just make sure to keep your head up, eyes focused on your audience, and charge ahead with an energetic and effective presentation.