It all started 17 years ago sat in the front row on a cold, hard school chair built for stacking not sitting in the assembly hall of my son’s very first day at school.
The headteacher addressed the entire new cohort and their parents with the ‘rules’ for the next 7 years.
Minutes into his speech my son turned to look up at me and with pain in his eyes said: “Daddy, this story is giving me a headache. What time will it finish?”
In that moment it occurred to me that the head was not only giving me a headache too, but that when I was to return to work later that morning I’d be enduring many more.
Most of my days at work were filled with meetings and presentations in one form or another and I knew exactly how my son was feeling in that assembly hall.
That’s when my passion for public speaking was ignited and I began the subconscious quest to become the Aspirin of the public speaking world.
It takes a great deal to engage, inspire and connect with any audience but thankfully there is plenty you can do and much of it is done in the first few minutes. Here are just a few things you can do to capture their attention, interest and curiosity:
1. Interrupt their thought pattern
‘The only people who need to be motivated are the people who can’t see a future’
Those were the very wise words of my first boss spoken over 30 years ago whilst trying to give me lessons in leadership.
Starting with a relevant, meaningful and powerful quote that can help you to introduce your topic will always serve you well. This is a quote I often open with when I am presenting on the challenges of leadership today.
Many presenters open with a quote from Churchill or Kennedy and that’s fine although I often find that if you have one that is much closer to home it can work even better.
2. Share a key learning point
A great way to connect with your audience is to identify common ground you may have with them and how they can learn from your experiences.
In my first few months in a new leadership role I remember having a coffee and a chat with a young man who had already worked for the company for several years but hadn’t progressed very far. Here is what I learned from him:
– He was the father of 3 young boys
– He was a semi-professional drummer in a band
– He built racing cars in his garage in his spare time (and raced them)
– He had successfully climbed Ben Nevis
When I finally recovered from the mystery of trying to work out why he wasn’t my boss I realised that he like so many others in the business were highly creative, talented and responsible people.
That was a key learning point for me in my career; my first task as a leader was to really get to know my team first.
3. Get them thinking early
Most audiences expect to be spoken at for the most part of a presentation, especially for the first few minutes.
Get their neurons firing early by encouraging them to think for a few moments.
One of the best ways to do that is to ask them a question that you’d like them to answer either in the comfort of their own minds or out loud. We have many questions we ask delegates at our presentation skills workshops but two of my opening favourites are:
– ‘I’d like you to think back for a moment to the last presentation you attended. As you do please raise your hand if you remember something shared with you that you believe made a significant difference to your personal or professional life’.
– ‘I’d like you to think for a moment about what you believe it takes to be an exceptional presenter, and when you have some ideas in mind just exchange them with someone sitting next to you’
4. Challenge the status quo
The next time you attend your senior management team monthly update take a moment to have a good look around. You’re likely to find the same people sitting in the same seats, presenting the same information in the same way with the same people asking the same questions.
It happens in board meetings too and in fact most regular business meetings for that matter.
Before presenting to the main board once to ask them for millions of pounds to acquire new software, I wheeled in thousands of paper copies of customer complaint letters into the boardroom on catering trollies.
That wasn’t what they were expecting!
5. Make a promise
Why would anyone want to pay attention to what you have to say in a presentation unless they believed there was a good reason to?
It’s a tough one but if the first words you speak are a promise of what you believe you can comfortably offer them that will make a tangible difference, they will listen.
‘In the next 20 minutes you will learn tools and strategies to increase your sales by 20%’.
A year ago I published a blog ‘Your Audience aren’t Fish’, in which I expressed my objection to presenters trying to ‘hook’ their audience.
As you will see I concluded by saying: ‘Whatever you do though, don’t try to hook them, try to be present and help them to be the same and to feel something.’
Remember the headache the headteacher gave my son and I that I referred to earlier? Well it really doesn’t have to be that way for you or your audience. Following any of these 5 powerful ideas will help you to connect with them in an instant, so you don’t need a hook.
For more great tips on how to be a brilliant presenter, download Maurice’s free guide: 20 Habits of Truly Brilliant Presenters.