Imagine that you are sitting in your local multiplex. You are waiting for the film to start. A big box of popcorn is next to you. You have been asked to turn off your mobile phone. The lights go off properly and the film starts. You have heard only good things about the film so you are keen to see it. The screen stays black, though, and the opening credits start to roll. And then they continue to do so. For 7 minutes.
And only then does the film start.
The next day you go back to the same multiplex. You buy some more popcorn and you settle back down again in the same place. The lights go off. But this time you get straight into the action. A man is falling through the ice. Why? The sun is coming up over the moon. A computer screen with green alien script filling it up. In each of these are curiousity has been peaked and we want, even need, to know what happens next.
Which would you stay still for?
The first film is Casablanca. Often voted one of the best films ever. But nowadays we would not sit through 7 minutes of facts on their own. Times have changed and we have become used to new ways of listening and watching.
(For information, the other films I mentioned are Skyfall, 2001: A Space Odysey and the Matrix. Here is a short video explaining what makes a great intro to a film.)
And so it is with presentations.
However, once you have the structure you still need the content. And you need to start somewhere. This blog will look at some ways you can find your starting point.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Before doing anything else, even before putting pen to paper or moving your cursor across you screen, (our finger if you are on a tablet or phone), is to ask yourself what are your objectives. Are you trying to motivate a team? Sell an idea? Explain a concept? Convince VCs of the worth of your product? Something else?
Then you need to find out as much as you can about who you are going to be talking to. What are their expectations? What is their background?
Now you can start thinking about what type of story you are going to be telling.
But you still need to tell the story. And this is where your job becomes a little bit harder still. You need to find the right way in. Many tests have shown how important first impressions are – and there is a lot written about it that is easy enough to find. (A particularly good source is Blink by Malcolm Gladwell but you can also read about the studies done by Nalini Ambady). These are talking about physical first impressions, though.
(Just as a side point – I would suggest that even before opening your mouth to speak, you should think long and hard about how you appear. Although how you look should not matter, it does. How you stand, how confident you appear, even how you dress has a startling impact on how your presentation will be received.)
But your first words are also going to go a long way to building or breaking the trust that your audience wants to give you.
As I have said above, films and TV programmes, even video games, today start with the story and not the credits. They are trying to create the “And then what…” reaction in the minds of the audience. Your role as a public speaker is the same. You want your listeners to be asking that question, too.
You don’t need to start at the beginning. The only criteria is that where you start needs to have a relevance sooner rather than later, otherwise you will lose your audience.
There are very few films that can keep people guessing in the way that Sixth Sense did – and even the film’s director hasn’t managed to do the same trick twice. By all means use suspense as a trick, but be careful how long you keep your listeners guessing. They are there to learn from you and they are not watching a film.
Just a quick reminder. If you chose to follow this path, don’t forget that at some point you will need to introduce yourself, just as films eventually tell the audience what they are watching!