What’s the best way to open your presentation?

Have you ever got stuck figuring out exactly how to open your presentation?

We know that the way we begin is important – it creates the first impression that the audience will receive so there’s a bit of pressure around getting it “right”. The CRC (Context – Relevance – Credibility) method that we teach on our courses is simple and effective – but as you become more confident, you may start looking for something a bit different – something that helps make you and your presentation more memorable.

Learn from the champs

I (Tony) recently had the pleasure of attending a number of presentations from 2015 Toastmasters World Champion, Mohammed Qahtani. I was, of course, analyzing Mohammed’s techniques and one thing that I noticed is how he opened his talks. Check out the beginning of his winning speech: Did you get it? You have to be alert because it’s over so quickly! He starts by asking a question. In this case “What?” (in other words “What’s the problem with what I’m doing?) So short and direct and funny that it immediately drew us in. When I watched his presentations over the weekend of New Zealand Toastmasters conference here in Wellington, I started to see that asking a question, seemed to be Mohammed’s “go to” method for starting a talk. So could you use the same technique? What are the pro and cons of this technique?

Avoid Trite or Manipulative Questions

The main thing to avoid is asking a trite or manipulative question that annoys your audience. Unfortunately a lot of presenters mis-use the question technique by asking questions like “Who here would like to make more money?” or “Have you ever had to deal with a difficult person?” This feels incredibly patronising to any other than an audience of little children – in fact, adults will feel like you are treating them like little children and immediately become resistant – so don’t do it! Instead, design a “strategic question” – a question that does not have an obvious answer or maybe one where the intuitive answer is wrong. Or, a question that gets the audience to consider something that they’ve never thought about before. This takes some planning and thinking. So don’t leave it to the last minute to design such questions as you’ll probably under-utilise the opportunity that opening with a question offers.

Make sure it’s relevant

It’s important that your question links logically to your Key Message. For example, in the Kiva presentation that we use to demonstrate the use of the SpeakerMap™, the Key Message is “Lend $25 to a poor person.” The thrust of the presentation is that it’s possible to help poor people by lending money rather that giving money. This is a new concept for most people so your opening question might be: “How would you feel if you gave money to help a poor person only to have them give it back to you later?” or “If I asked you to give $100 to a poor person would you do it?  But what if I told you that after three months, you get that $100 back – guaranteed. Then would you do it?” Do you see how powerful this technique can be? You’ve involved your audience, made them think and introduced your topic, all within seconds of opening your mouth. Very impressive!

So what strategic question might you use to open your next presentation?

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