Presentations: How to grab audience attention

What is the best opening to a presentation that you can remember? You may have to think hard. It is likely that the vast majority of presentations you have experienced followed a fairly standard opening sequence, something along the lines of:

Good morning/afternoon

My name is ………

Today I am going to talk to you about ………

First we will ………

Then we will ………

Finally we will ………

Now, this does not mean the presenter is devoid of presentation ideas. This is useful information at some levels and does signpost to an audience what they are about to hear. The chances are it is an opening that is used out of habit.  However, if you hear something too often you are likely to simply screen it out and wait for something of interest to grab your conscious attention. So, why not grab their attention first, and then give them any courtesy information you believe to be appropriate.

If only all audience members were this attentive.

Grabbing attention is not about gimmicks or showbiz type fanfares. It simply requires some planning and application of effective presentation ideas and strategies.  Consider the following:

  • A quote that gets your audience thinking
    For example, I sometimes start presentations with my favourite quote by George Bernard Shaw – ‘the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place’
  • A surprising statistic or fact
    Presenters are often tempted to leave a key fact or finding to be a big finish, yet it can be a powerful attention grabber at the start.
  • A joke that makes them laugh
    This is really a higher risk strategy, especially for nervous presenters, as if your audience don’t find it funny there is a tumble weed moment that can feel like days. It can be very effective for experienced presenters.
  • A story
    A well told story draws your audience into your presentation and can help them understand a problem or get the context of an issue clear before applying your proposed solutions. Often used as a type of metaphor.
  • A question that requires a response or a rhetorical question
    Plants your targeted seed of thought into the minds of your audience. Use the rhetorical question if you are a nervous presenter to avoid immediately getting into a difficult to control dialog with your audience
  • An anecdote
    similar to a story, but likely to be based on a real life experience, and specific to your topic.
  • An image
    A picture paints a thousand words – so the good news is that you have to say less.

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