“Well, hello!” Presenter Smith greets his initially attentive audience, continuing with, “I’m Presenter Smith. How nice of you to be here inside with me on this sunny afternoon.”
Yes, the audience thinks, nodding inwardly, wondering exactly how nice it is outside.
“I’m from Sheboygan—well, actually, Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, but Sheboygan’s close enough—and—“
The audience members start to check their brochures for the name of the presentation, wondering What was it I wanted to hear about here?
“—I’ve been running my own little XYZ firm for about the last twenty years. I never get tired of speaking about XYZ, and I hope you all will find this as interesting as I do.”
Presenter Smith’s audience has checked out mentally about 40 seconds into the presentation. It’s a familiar experience for seasoned conference attendees, and with good reason. The Internet and public speaking books are rife with advice that generally goes along these lines:
Build rapport with the audience. Establish a connection. Say something personal. Capture the audience’s attention.
All that sounds well and good, but in the wrong hands, is a recipe for disaster.
Collude and Inspire
Check out Peter Diamandis’ Opening Presentation at X PRIZE’s ‘incentive2innovate’ Conference. He opens by involving the audience personally as his cohorts in working at solving global problems at a crucial moment in time, stating, “At this moment in history, when the world has so many extraordinary challenges paired with economic restrictions, how we attack those problems and solve them – because fundamentally I believe all problems can be solved—the question is how to do it in an efficient fashion.” For a talk such as Diamandis’, he could have set out to convey information—information he thought to be important, for sure, but ultimately, information—but instead, his opening move was to inspire.
Watch the first 30 seconds or so of singer Amanda Palmer’s TED talk on the Art of Asking:
Palmer conveys both the unexpected and the personal. You might scoff and say, “oh, she’s an entertainer, she can get away with that,” or “this is a TED talk, my conference presentation is for a totally different audience.” In response, you must know that one of the key elements for an interesting and captivating conference presentation is not only to hear information in a new way, but to be engaged in a new and different way, as well. Unless, of course, you are actually at the Boring Conference, but if not, well, then the odds are decidedly not in your favor that anyone in the room wants to hear a talk that’s “Like Listening to Paint Dry.”
Don’t be afraid to say something different—your audience is crying out for it. If they can’t be in awe of your motivational presentation mojo, then let them see you. Remember, you’re unique, just like everyone else. While that may seem trite, you should think of it as reassuring. While we may not all have been living eight foot statutes like Amanda Palmer, odds are that there was something in her weird that resonated with more than one person in the audience and who has since watched that clip.
A great speech answers a great need. This doesn’t have to be a speech or presentation on ending world hunger, solving the malaria crisis in sub-Saharan Africa, or turning the current economic crisis on end. The “great need” could be a need that your audience was not even aware that they had—and when you answer it, they’ll never forget your presentation.
The best presentation opener you can offer is earnest confidence and true sincerity. The primacy effect serves to remind us that as humans, we tend to remember things better if they were presented first, rather than later one. It’s also known as first impressions, because if you make a great connection with your audience, they’ll be sure to remember they could trust you, and be more motivated to buy your product, try your solutions, work for your company, and so on.
Use the acronym PUNCH to remember specific techniques for opening your next conference presentation (or your first). Remember, the acronym isn’t just to remember the techniques by, but it also is the technique. Start strong, with no wibbly-wobbly “Hi, my name is” tried and true boredom trustees that every other presenter you’ve wanted to walk out on has done. Start strong—PUNCH it! ~Sara
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