Presentations: All you have to do is start well. The rest is easy.
I’m reliably informed that even our ever confident American cousins find giving presentations one of the scariest challenges of modern life. If they are scared, we all have a right to be. But we all have to brave this horror from time to time, so it’s a fear we have to overcome. We all have to put forward ideas in meetings, make occasional speeches at events, or pep up our teams.
The purpose of this little piece is to help you with the most important part of a presentation: the start. After all, most people fall asleep soon after that. As with any activity, if we make a good start our confidence and form improves. But if we make a mess of the start, it is hard to recover.
When it comes to public speaking, the old saying goes:
‘Tell ‘m what you’re going to tell ’em
Then tell ’em
Then tell ’em what you’ve told ’em’
So let’s deal with the most important stage of all: number 1.
Stage 1 is defined by a perfect little acronym, which actually spells the right word: I.N.T.R.O. I can’t remember where I found this little model – and I certainly can’t claim I made it up. But I.N.T.R.O. is all you need to remember to make a good start.
So what does it actually stand for?
I is for Interest
Don’t start by telling the audience your name – or even thanking them for being there. That’s not going to create any excitement. The first thing you say has got to grab the listeners – to make them interested.
I once had to come up with the opening to a half day course on employment law for managers. Not the most exciting subject in the world. So we needed to say something interesting to grab our middle management delegates. Telling them about the laws was not the answer. Instead we started with an old favourite… a question:
‘How much money did the company spend dealing with industrial tribunals last year? Do you think it was £50,000, £100,000 or £150,000?’
Most people will take the safe path and choose the middle option. Already though, everyone is involved – thinking abut their answer to the question. Giving them a multiple choice always makes it easier. So the delegates happily thought the right answer was £100k – and what a waste of money that was.
So here comes the twist…
‘Well, £100,000 would be bad… but I have to tell you it was £200,000. And guess where that money came from… the bottomline… and your bonus….’
Suddenly, everyone in the room saw employment law knowledge as important. The were now engaged in this difficult subject.
If you can’t think of a good question, then other interest generators include little stories, startling statistics or a witty quote from someone you know the audience respect. Don’t try telling jokes though. Even if you are good at delivering a killer punchline, you run the risk of trivialising your topic or even giving offence.
N is for Need
Very simply, why do you, the audience, need to know this? This stage build on the interest by showing how important the topic is to the people you are addressing.
‘So as people managers we all need to understand employment law. As a result we will manage our people more effectively, we will have more effective teams… and reduce the risk of ending up in court’
Other needs could include the need for skills, for action, for clear plans, for cost saving…. Whatever you choose, they have to be relevant to your audience.
T is for Title
You might have thought that the title should have come first. But the title needs to answer the need that I and N have created, so it should wait until those points have been made. A good title should be memorable in itself and be inviting. It should promise a benefit, a solution, an answer…
‘So today’s session is about “The essentials of Employment Law”…
Equally it could be the ‘idiot’s guide to…’ or ‘Everything you need to know about…’ or 'All you need to do is start well’
So your audience are awake, concerned and hopeful that you are going to give them something worthwhile. They now know what the presentation is about.
But they may be worried about how complex it is going to be, so now you move on to….
R is for Restriction
This element is less obvious. What you need to do next is tell them what the presentation is NOT about. But you do this is a positive way – making into a real benefit.
‘I’m not going to give you a history lesson on every law on the statute book…’ (At this point you audience are audibly sighing with relief)
The more you say you are going to keep away from theory, strategy, technology… the happier a lot of the audience will be. You are making a virtue of brevity and simplicity in your approach.
You can also use this section to lay remind people that you are only talking for a short time and to set out your approach to handling questions. So we are nearly at the end of this lovely little acronym.
O is for Objectives
O is the most important part – and it covers no less than three really important things.
At this point we are going to tell our audience what they are going to get from our presentation – in three short verbs.
First of all, we need to tell them what they will KNOW as a result of the presentation. This may be some amazing facts, some remarkable solutions, the answers to the problem that we set out earlier. So the listener know they should be ready to take notes – they’re about to learn something new.
‘You will know about the three most important employment laws that trip us all up’
We also need to tell them what they will be able to DO as a result of the presentation. We are giving them something practical they can act upon. In some cases, this might be about giving them skills they can use, contributing to a good cause, encouraging them to vote.
‘So you will know what to do to avoid ending up in court’.
The final verb of the three is not about the brain or the hands, but the heart. We also need to get across what we want our listeners to feel. If they don’t feel anything… they won’t do anything. Feelings inspire action.
‘Instead of feeling afraid to act, you will feel confident to deal with employment issues before they become a real crisis’
So there you have it. It takes a minute or two to make a good INTRO – and only a few more minutes to write it.
In the space of those two minutes you have:
Made your audience interested in the topic
Showed them why they need to know more about it
Told them the scope of your speech (Title)
Reassured them that you are not going to try to cover too much (Restriction)
Helped them see what new things they will Know and be able to Do. And you have also changed the way they feel about the topic. (Objectives)
And once the audience is beaming at you with anticipation for what will follow, you are confident to share you brilliance and move on into the main body of your speech.
Next time, we’ll tell you how to finish. Which is almost as important!
About the author
David White is a highly experienced trainer and consultant, focusing on senior management and personal training and development. Following university he went into sales and marketing and worked in the automotive, food and chemical industries. In the early 1980s he was a founder manager of BT’s pioneering venture into telemarketing, before becoming a director of a direct and database marketing agency in London.