First Impressions: Dynamic Openings for Business Presentations

Can you imagine a John Grisham novel beginning with, “Hi, my name is John Grisham. The name of my book is The Firm”? Or Bruce Springsteen starting a concert with, “I’m Bruce Springsteen, and tonight I thought I’d sing you a few songs.”

Novelists, singers, and other entertainers know that they are competing for mind-share against everyday life. Presentations are no different. Successful business presenters must make their presentations stand out immediately. A compelling opening is their best opportunity.

To ensure that you get your audience mentally in the room, think from their perspective. In this example, professionals from a management team are participating in a quarterly update:

  • John and his wife are sharing the car today. His mind is consumed with logistics about leaving work early enough to pick up his wife and daughter by 5:15.
  • Hilary is thinking about the budgets, due tomorrow. She’s still unsure how to divide all resources.
  • Bill is on a mental vacation. He leaves for Hawaii in the morning.

What’s the challenge? Your audience is physically present; their minds are not. As a presenter, you must quickly get your audience mentally focused on you. Unfortunately, many presenters fail to do so. Most presenters begin with statements like:

  • Thanks for being here. My topic is the quarterly update.
  • Hi, my name is Joe Smith and I am with the ACME Corporation. We specialize in Wi-Fi security.
  • Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here to talk with you about a career in the biotech industry.

Lifeless openings like these only keep audiences mulling over their own circumstances. In the meantime, you’ve launched into a presentation that could be helpful to them. If only they’d listen.

Can you recover from a weak opening? Perhaps. But the tone has been set. How can you get your presentation started on the right foot? Three tips for jumpstarting any presentation are to 1) ask a question, 2) introduce a vivid statistic, or 3) bottom line it.

Dynamic Opening Tip #1: Ask a Question

Questions instantly engage an audience. They turn a passive presentation into an active experience. Questions also shift the focus from mental preoccupation to the questions at hand.

What types of questions should you ask?

  • For the quarterly update presentation: What words come to mind when you think about our last quarter?
  • For a presentation on Wi-Fi security: How would you feel if you knew your competitors were reading your e-mails?
  • For a presentation to students interested in a career in the biotech industry: What draws you to a career in biotechnology?

Questions like these make the audience feel as if they are part of the presentation, not just suffering through it because they are required to.

Dynamic Opening Tip #2: Introduce a Noteworthy Statistic

A thought-provoking statistic can create meaning and context. It can also shed new light on a familiar topic.

Examples of statistics as openers:

  • For the quarterly update presentation: We improved profitability by 20% over last quarter.
  • For a presentation on Wi-Fi security: As many as four out of 10 of your emails may not be reaching their intended destinations.
  • For a presentation to students interested in a career in the biotech industry: Average real wages in the biotech industry nearly doubled in the last 10 years to $70,000.

Compelling statistics can awaken your audience, improving the changes that your presentation will be listened to and absorbed.

Dynamic Opening Tip #3: Bottom Line It

Audiences are inundated with data. The power of directness can capture their attention quickly. Directness also ensures that your message is delivered clearly and succinctly.

Consider these bottom-line openings:

  • For the quarterly update presentation: Bottom line is we have hit our target numbers for the 3rd quarter.
  • For a presentation on Wi-Fi security: Wi-Fi equals exposure. Implementing solutions is not an option.
  • For a presentation to students interested in a career in the biotech industry: Careers in biotechnology are booming.

Bottom line your message, and watch your audience become engaged.

Next time you have the opportunity to present, challenge yourself to open more like the first line of a book or show. Start your presentation with anything but, “Hi, my name is…” Peak their interest with a compelling first line. Then, audiences will be clamoring to know your name.

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