Don’t start your presentation with credits; Issue #254, February 7, 2012

PowerPoint Tip: Don’t start your presentation with credits

Last week in a coaching session a client asked, “What is the best way to start my presentation?” She said that she had tried different methods and didn’t feel that they were working as well as she wanted. This question reminded me of what Nick Morgan said in his keynote presentation at the Presentation Summit last fall. In this article I want to talk about how to start your presentation, building off of what Nick suggested in his talk.

How do most movies and TV shows start today? As Nick pointed out, it is much different than 15 years ago. In the past, a movie started out with the credits. It listed all the actors, the key production personnel, and other important people before you saw the first scene. Not today. In the first moments of any show, they have an exciting scene that immediately gets you involved in the story. After they have you hooked, they show a few credits.

I agree with Nick that our presentations should be similar. If we don’t hook the audience in the first sixty seconds, they start to lose interest. But, you may say, I don’t give credits at the start of my presentation like a movie does. Too many of the presentations I review actually do start with the equivalent of credits in the business world: the introduction of the team, many facts about the company or department, and the agenda of the presentation. The audience has lost interest by the time you actually get to any real content.

So how do you grab their attention at the start of your presentation, and what do you do with the “credits” information? As I suggested to my coaching client last week, you should start by making it clear to the audience why they should spend time listening to you. What key analysis, important decision, or future direction are you going to discuss that will directly impact this audience? Unless they see the connection to their own lives, they won’t see a reason to stay tuned to the rest of the presentation.

Once you have started with the reason they should pay attention, you can then outline the key points in your presentation, in the form of an agenda if you prefer. This gives the audience a roadmap to follow as you explain the details behind your opening statement.

Consider whether you really need to include information about the team or company. Many times that information is self-serving and does not really help the audience understand your message. If you do include this type of information, it must be presented in a way so that your audience understands why it matters to them, not just because you are trying to boast. (I did a slide makeover on this topic that you can view on YouTube here)

Just like movie and television producers have changed how they start a show, as presenters we have to change how we start our presentations. The old methods of telling a joke, commenting on the news, or reciting how great we are do not work. Our audience expects to be engaged from the start. If we don’t engage them, they will turn to their laptop, smartphone, or even get up and leave. Start your presentation with why your topic is important to this audience and you will have a more successful presentation.