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The 30-Second Rule: How to Create Unforgettable Presentations

You want your audience to hang on every word. To make that happen, you have to be sure you win them over in the first 30 seconds of your presentation.
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Whether your audience is your boss, your banker, a small team of direct reports, a ballroom full of conference attendees, or thousands of people worldwide connected via teleconference, your success depends on being able to make a great presentation.

Great presentations are well-organized, flow logically from one idea to another, and ultimately leave the audience leave feeling rewarded and enlightened. All well and good, but if you don’t hook your audience in the first 30 seconds, all your careful preparation may be for naught. Therefore you have to begin with a bang! A television commercial has only 30 seconds to grab your attention; the same is true for you and your presentation.

The following steps will help you up your game:

Brainstorm Ideas

Start building your presentation by brainstorming. Share ideas with co-workers, draw flow charts, or talk with relevant customers or vendors. Make time to write down your initial ideas without concern about how they flow, or if they even seem to connect. As a way to start, consider your audience. Who will be there? What do you want them to understand at the end of the presentation, and what impact do you want have? How long should you talk? How detailed should you be? Brainstorming is an important step to begin building a good presentation, because although your ideas are not refined during the process, it helps you focus in on the details you need.

Write a Basic Outline

Once you have a general idea of what you want, create a foundation for your presentation by writing an outline. This outline forms a basic structure for your presentation; with it you list and build upon your ideas. The outline should include an introduction, three to five important points that elaborate on the main idea(s), and a conclusion that recaps what you’ve just covered.  of your introduction. Conclude your outline by telling your audience what you just showed them.

This outline format, although simple, forms the basic structure of a well-organized presentation. More complex and longer presentations can be easily created by multiple, simple outlines like the one described above and then piecing them together with transitions. The outlines are building blocks, and their brevity permits you to string ideas together and present more complex material in concise, understandable pieces.

A completed outline can help you conceive an optimum opening “bang” that you will hook your audience. It can be a funny cartoon, some amazing statistics, a dramatic personal story, a good joke, or a pithy quote. Some speakers have found that starting a presentation with silence can be quite effective. Whatever you do, remember that you need to get the audience hooked in 30 seconds or less!

Connect Ideas Together and Fill in the Details

After completing your outline, write as many outlines as you need to cover the scope of your presentation. Connect your outlines with transitional words and phrases like, “Expanding on this point…” or “As a result of….” Use pictures, graphs, spreadsheets, samples, or other props as you see fit to help you illustrate your points. According to research, when information is presented with vivid images, people will remember 95 percent of what they see and hear. Remember to specifically tell your audience what to look for in the props and how these further prove or demonstrate your main theme. 

Polish and Practice

Once you’re satisfied with the structure of your presentation, practice by reading it aloud. You may find that areas that are well-written sound awkward when read aloud. Refine as needed, and also look for portions that could be deleted in the interest of clarity and brevity. If your presentation is long and complex, consider how you might break up your ideas so you keep your audience focused on your main points. Think about how to smoothly transition between topics (sometimes revisiting or referring to the source of your opening bang can be a good way to link one section to the next).

Turn Up the Energy

Deliver your presentation with personal energy and enthusiasm. Remember that the final product should reflect your unique perspective, insights, and energy. Illustrate the key points with flair, by showing rather than simply reading from a script. And remember: the last 30 seconds of your presentation are almost as important as the first 30. Summarize your points clearly and succinctly, and leave your audience with a brief, inspiring or uplifting message to take with them after the presentation ends. 

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Last updated: Dec 2, 2013

PETER ECONOMY

While Peter Economy has spent the better part of two decades of his life slugging it out mano a mano in the management trenches, he is also the best-selling author of Managing for Dummies, The Management Bible, Leading Through Uncertainty, and more than 75 other books, with total sales in excess of two million copies. He has also served as associate editor for Leader to Leader for more than 10 years, where he has worked on projects with the likes of Jim Collins, Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, and many other top management and leadership thinkers. Sign up here to always stay up to date with Peter's latest Inc.com columns, and visit him anytime at petereconomy.com.




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