5 Big Ideas For Opening Your Presentations That WOW Participants


by Sheila K. on February 11th, 2015

5 Big Ideas For Opening Your Presentations That WOW Participants
A recent webinar leader spent the first 18 minutes of her presentation introducing herself rambling on about her credentials and the people she knew before getting to her goals for the 45 minute session.  18 minutes  That’s 40% of the session!

I give her credit for customizing this experience suggesting that since it was a very small group, she wanted the session to be informal.  It was also true that she personalized the first of several sessions for this very small group using participant names and orchestrating their ability to briefly introduce themselves.  She encouraged them to make connections with others in the organization dealing with some of the same issues.

Open with a “Hook” to immediately engage audiences

The beginning of your session, (like the ending), is prime real estate.  It presents the most unique opportunity to “hook” your audience, getting them interacting with you and with fellow learners immediately with something (hopefully) relevant to the content of your session.

Here are 5 big ideas for opening your presentations to WOW your participants: 

1.    Begin with a startling statistic!   In your session with organization managers on harassment in the workplace for instance, begin by citing the cost of litigating one employee claim as a percentage of their remaining department budget for the year.  OR

Consider beginning a speaking engagement on your latest book describing the life long emotional impact on texting teens causing automobile accidents with the increase in these events over the last two years.  Perhaps you capture that increase locally to emphasize the relevancy for a local audience.  Adding a photo of such an accident adds to the emotion and another “hook.”

2.    Before even introducing yourself or your topic, share a story with a video vignette that suggests the consequences of NOT listening and heeding your advice during the session.   I’ll never forget the opening of a session used to insure flight attendants completed their pre-flight checklist completely and thoroughly every time.   You guessed it…there were a couple of items left unchecked on the list and the plane crashed.  Right before our eyes! The incomplete checklist was found amid the wreckage.

3.    One of the most powerful ways of engaging an audience is with the emotional response from a beautiful, powerful image or well known, credible individual attesting to the significance of what you are about to say.   For a project showcasing the role and responsibilities of public stewards, I videotaped brief interviews with prominent, esteemed people in the participants’ community asking their expectations of city stewards.  Interspersed with the interview comments were scenes of locations in this beautiful community—parks, schools, business community, streets and more.  Pride was evident in the smiles of the city employees when this video opened the session and I knew they were hooked when laughter and then a cheer erupted from the first audience to see it.

4.    Begin with an Expectations’ Exercise to ensure participants know that you are interested in what they “expect” from your comments.  This exercise will also provide you with some great information about who is in your audience, who has some experience or expertise to share and any burning issues that may distract them from applying the topical information you have to present.  Here’s an example.  Ask participants to briefly introduce themselves by providing 1 or 2 facts about themselves…name and department, name and type of work they do, name and area of the world they’ve traveled from or name and answer to a multiple choice question. Be sure it’s relevant to your topic!

Then ask them to describe,
A.  one thing they already know about your topic and
B.  one thing they’d like to learn.

As the activity progresses, ask a volunteer to scribe on a poster just the responses to item B which is what people want to learn.  Don’t do what I saw a presenters do at this point. He tore off the poster paper and threw the list away!   Keep this poster visible throughout the session to show participants you value their learning needs and to meet or manage their expectations about whether you’ll be able to respond or refer them to another resource.

5.    Begin with a ragged start.  I love these activities as they get people up and moving while engaging with others that have arrived at the same time.  Prior to participants’ arrival, create a problem to be solved.  The problem shouldn’t be complicated.  It may have an unusual circumstance or more than one accurate response.  Again; the key is relevance to your topic. As participants arrive, ask them to introduce themselves to one or two others that they don’t know or don’t know well, and solve the listed problem together.

In a small group, you can ask people to choose a partner.  In larger groups they can work at tables or gather near posters complete with directions hung around the presentation room. For very large audiences, you can present the problem on a Media slide for everyone to see asking that triads or small groups to self-select greet each other and solve the problem.

This informal exercise rewards those who arrived early or on time with something that gets their immediate attention while gaining comfort introducing themselves to others.  A ragged start doesn’t penalize those who are a bit late.  I always find pleasant surprises in the creative responses from ragged start activities as there is usually no right or wrong answer.

What are some of the best openers you’ve used for your presentations or you’ve seen used by others?