Over the past two decades, I've heard and reviewed hundreds of business presentations. Almost all of them open with an overview of the presenter's company and its offerings.

Unfortunately, such openings are boring and predictable and thus signal to the audience that the presenter is unworthy of attention. After you've heard a few corporate overviews, they all sound the same.

More important, such overviews force the audience to map what you and your company do into what they (the audience) actually need. That may seem obvious to you, but it might not be to them.

Effective presenters do the opposite. They open with a problem or opportunity that's both intellectually relevant to the audience's business and emotionally resonant with the audience itself.

Once the audience is engaged, effective presenters segue into how the presenter and his or her company might help, using experience as proof-points that the presenter can deliver as promised.

In other words, if you want your presentation to be memorable, always start with the audience's needs, desires, and fears. Here are five foolproof ways to accomplish that:

1. A problem/opportunity slide

The easiest way to make your presentation more memorable is simply to move your problem/opportunity slide forward. While this seems painfully obvious, only one out of 100 presenters do it.

For example, I recently reviewed a 28-page slide presentation for one of my clients that finally got to the customer's problem on--you guessed it--slide 28. And even then the problem was only implied.

My recommendation was to start with the customer's problem, tell a success story of a similar customer the company had helped, and only then discuss the company and its capabilities. Here's an example:

As simple as this technique sounds, it works. Why get fancy when a workmanlike approach does just as well?

2. An eye-opening fact or statistic

I discussed this method in my previous post, "15 Seconds to a Better Presentation." You begin with a fact that will create an immediate emotional reaction and then craft the presentation to put those emotions into context. 

For example, when I worked at DEC long years ago, I started my market strategy presentation with a graph showing how PC sales had grown from half the revenue of minicomputer/mainframe sales to twice the revenue.

Needless to say, this slide caught the audience's attention, especially since everyone else's market strategy presentation began with an organization chart of their respective marketing group.

The fact or statistic can be made more memorable (and convey more emotion) if you use some arresting graphic that reinforces the point:

Here's how the script might go: "Yes, $1 million." (Pause.) "That's how much money you're losing every year. Fortunately, there IS a better way, and I'm going to explain how you can easily save that money."

3. A physical metaphor

Business ideas, including problems and opportunities, tend to be abstract. However, you can make them more vivid by using a "prop" that communicates the idea in real-word terms.

For example, I have a client who's selling an application that tracks the technical specifications that programmers need to connect different financial systems together. Pretty dry, eh?

To make the value of the application vivid, I suggested that he take a bag of these documents to the meeting and then, while describing the problem, keep taking them out and piling them on the conference room table.  Here's what happened:

"I ran the act in two of my meetings today. What I particularly liked was the ability to reach senior business guys in the room, who clearly grasped the benefits and used terms such as 'no-brainer' and 'great tools.'"

I saw a similar example a while back with a motivational speaker who handed out "clicker" noisemakers at the beginning of the presentation and asked the audience to use them when something "clicked."  Simple, yet effective.

4. A surprising or intriguing video

People in our culture are trained from birth to pay rapt attention to television. It's not surprising, then, that a video--if it's interesting--can get an audience's attention and involvement.

Years ago, when I was responsible for marketing a groupware product, I'd start my presentations with a video of a team of people working hard (but not getting much done) and then being chewed out by an ogre of a boss. It was like The Office, but in hell.

Needless to say, after seeing that video (and relating to the universality of the experience) my audience was ready to listen to ideas for getting people to work together more effectively.

Probably the most effective use of a video for opening a presentation is Kodak's "Winds of Change." When I saw it for the first time, it was introduced with "our keynote speaker couldn't make it, so Kodak sent us a video of his speech." 

Here's the video...be sure to watch the entire thing:

 

Afterwards, the actual speaker appeared and used the "energy" from the video to make his point about Kodak's corporate strategy. Brilliant!

5. An audience activity

Finally, you can engage an audience quickly by getting them to DO something that's relevant to the subject matter of your presentation.

For example, I recently attended a conference where one presenter--the subject was effective use of social media--had everyone in the audience simultaneously tweet a selfie with the conference hashtag.  

At that same conference, another speaker--the subject matter was networking--started her presentation by insisting that audience members tell somebody at the table something they'd never say about themselves at a conference.

A group activity is another option, but only if the presentation is going to be long one. A quicker alternative is to ask a series of winnowing questions:

"Everybody raise their hands if they've made a sale in the past year. (Pause.) In the last month. (Pause.) This week.  (Pause.) Today. (Everyone's hand is down.) Well, I'm going to show you how to sell even when you're at a meeting." (etc. etc.)

The five methods described above are truly foolproof because they pique the emotions of the audience rather than ask them to figure out why you're talking about yourself and your company.

Warning: In my experience, most presenters find it very difficult to get out of their own heads and into the shoes of the audience. If you're struggling with this, you might want to subscribe to my free weekly newsletter, where I review and critique sales messages from real world subscribers.

Published on: Apr 26, 2016
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