How Not to Open a Presentation

Sometimes I forget to follow my own advice.

Just two days ago, while presenting to a group of post-doctoral students at Columbia University, I opened with“I’m just so excited to be here.”

As soon as the words came of my mouth, I wanted to start over. That's because opening a presentation with "I’m excited to be here” has become a gratuitous and obligatory statement that audiences hear a lot, and the phrase has lost its punch.

Making the opening about me and my excitement was a mistep. Not the end of the world, of course, but a lost opportunity.

I advise my clients to make the opening about the audience. The purpose of the opening is to engage the room.

So what could I have done instead?

I could have shown my excitement, instead of talking aboout it.

Tone of voice and energy do the trick here. Actions speak louder than words every time.

I could have opened with a headline, and started with my most compelling material.

An effective headline is engaging and sometimes surprising. It's always better to lead with something that grabs attention - a statement or story that links to what the audience cares about most.

Nearly all presentations can be drastically improved with one simple trick.

Once you write your remarks, lop off the beginning. Find the part where you finally say what you came there to say. Start with that!

While I'm at it, here are a few other openings to avoid:

Don't apologize for your time slot - What you have to say is worth their time, so don't apologize. "I know it's early, but drink your coffee and try to stay with me." or "So I'm sure you are getting hungry, but I'll take just a little bit more of your time." or "I know we are all having a blood sugar crash after lunch, but I"ll try to keep you engaged."

Don't offer gratuitous gratitude - Gratitude has it's place, but save it for later. Your opening should be about the value you offer for the audience. You want to peak their interest.

Don't try out new stand-up material - It doesn't matter if your friends consider you funny; jokes are incredibly hard to pull off. If you are going to open with a joke, try it out on a variety of people before you decide to use it in front of a room.

Finally, if you remember one thing, remember this. It's always about your audience and what's in it for them. Open with that.



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