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Presentation Skills - Organization is Key Part I

Jul 29, 2008
We begin with Part I of a 4-part series on organizing the sequence of your presentation so that your information creates maximum impact on the audience. Getting off the right start is absolutely critical.

What's the title of the first slide in 99% of all business presentations? The Agenda. Beginning your presentation with the Agenda slide is essential to keeping with the old adage, "Tell 'em how you're gonna bore 'em; Bore 'em; Tell 'em how you bored them!"

Audiences who see the Agenda slide come up, followed by the History slide, slump back into their seats and say to themselves, "Oh my God, not this again!"

The "Grabber"

Why not arouse the audiences' curiosity with a shocking fact, a thought-provoking question, or anything that immediately engages them? That's what's known as a "grabber". Remember that the audience is sizing you up in the first thirty seconds and they are thinking, "Does this person know what they're talking about? Am I going to listen? What's in it for me?" Use that first sentence, those first few words to make a major impact on your audience and take command of the room.

Film at 11

We've all heard the teasers, or "grabbers" that TV stations throw out there to get your attention to make sure that you watch the next show or that you watch the upcoming news. Local affiliate news stations are notorious for doing this especially during sweeps or ratings week. They'll mention something during a commercial break during the show before the 11 o'clock news to make sure that you tune in.

They entice you with something like,

"Coming up at 11: Doctors say exercise can be bad for you. Tune in tonight to find out more."

Or: "To show how tough the FAA is on airline safety, the agency decided to send an American Airlines traveler to his death".

You don't ever want to incorporate dishonesty to get people to listen, but you should whet the audience's appetite so they won't tune out. That's what a "grabber" is all about. The key is to get the audience to say to themselves, "Really? Tell me more!" instead of, "Oh, no. Been here. Heard that. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz"

Take extra time and care with developing your "grabber"; it's your first impression and it's worth being well composed. Try to find a strong fact in your presentation that doesn't seem far fetched when you present it along with your supporting evidence, but might sound bizarre or impossible when taken out of context.

In the case of the TV news grabber, the story at 11(:20) was that a medical study had just concluded that men over the age of 85 who engaged in marathons when the temperature was over 100 had a 50% chance of heart attack! Hence, exercise can be bad for you!

And if you do the math on the debacle that the FAA caused in 2008 when it chose to ground a fleet of 300 airplanes that had never suffered from a mechanical failure in it's 20 year history of operations, you find that by denying 400,000 passengers access to the absurdly high level of airline safety, travelers were exposed to the relative dangers of hundreds of millions of miles of surface travel. Buried in those statistics (excuse the term) was very likely at least one victim of an automotive accident, as according to the NHTSB there is a one fatality for every 15 millions of miles driven.

So when it comes to grabbing your listeners attention: Research by Cox Communications, the large cable systems operator, shows that the typical television channel surfer decides in 10 seconds or less whether or not to stay with the channel he's selected before deciding to stay or move on. [Of course, science has shown that women use a remote to see what's on TV, and men use a remote to see what else is on.]

Cox further claims that the average Web surfer, when doing a search, will give the return page only 2 seconds before deciding whether or not to switch.

Audiences are much more forgiving with presenters. A recent study by UC Santa Cruz found that most audience members give the presenter 30 seconds to decide whether to keep listening or tune out.

If the first 30 to 90 seconds of your presentation is devoted to covering the Agenda, and then moves into the Company Overview followed by your Revenue History followed by your Organizational Chart, you are guaranteed to have lost the vast majority of listeners.

Instead, grab them from the beginning and never let go!
About the Author
J. Douglas Jefferys is a principal at PublicSpeakingSkills.com, an international consulting firm specializing in training businesses of all sizes to communicate for maximum efficiency. The firm spreads its unique knowledge through on-site classes, public seminars, and high-impact videos, and can be reached through the Internet or at 888-663-7711.
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