When presenting to an audience, first impressions count. If you lose their attention in the first five minutes, you’ll lose it forever.
It’s human nature for us to judge a person based on their behaviour. In fact, it’s impossible not to form an opinion. People make up their minds within five seconds of hearing or seeing someone – whether or not they care about what is being said.
You will often hear advice on how you should dress to impress and control your posture so you appear assertive and approachable. While these are true, what comes out of your mouth in the first five seconds of presenting is crucial if you are to make a good first impression. It largely determines whether you will achieve the outcome you want. For example, if your goal is to educate, sell, entertain or influence your audience, your opening line must not only grab their attention but also go hand-in-hand with what you want to convey overall.
When planning for a presentation, you should carefully consider your opening line. The purpose of the first five seconds is to captivate. This means anything your audience was thinking or feeling before you started – whether it was based on how you dressed or walked onto the stage – has now been forgotten and they want to hear and see more of you.
Here are five ways to captivate your audience in the first five seconds:
Shock your audience by making a very provocative statement. Everyone loves a bit of controversy, so what better way to see people’s reactions.
Example: “Your competitors care more about your customers than you do. They are watching your every move. If you don’t communicate with your customers enough, they will quickly lose interest and your competitor will snap them up.”
Bring a fascinating or ambiguous object that links to your talk and show it without explaining what it is until the end.
Example: If you are giving a presentation on financial performance, show a picture of three different people, someone positively in the media, someone neutral and someone really being nailed by the press, continue to hold it through your speech. At the end, ask them to reveal the connection with the numbers – they will always remember it.
Share a cliffhanger opening. The key is to set the scene for your audience, so that they can create their own picture in their heads.
Example: “Who the hell do you think you are to talk to me about developing my people?” Pause for five seconds. “These were the first words I heard when I met with…”
Solicit a compelling question. Everyone loves to talk about themselves at a networking event and the same is true during a presentation. Ask a question in the first five seconds and, if it’s a good one, they’ll continue to ponder a response beyond the end of your presentation.
Example: “So what if you fail? Who will care and what are the consequences anyway?”
We often switch off when we see a presenter walk on the stage and head straight into “Hello, I’m Mark and today I’ll talk to you about goal-setting”. Instead, before you even introduce yourself, surprise your audience with something delightful that they wouldn’t expect.
Example: As you begin presenting, remove more items of clothing than is usual. Take off your jumper (to reveal a RELAX t-shirt) and slip off your shoes (and socks if you dare!). Now, as if it’s nothing, begin your talk.
Barry Holmes of Zoom Creates is a regular keynote speaker on the theory and application of accelerated learning as well as a personal business coach to directors, CEOs and business leaders. He has worked with large international organisations including 3, Starbucks, Marks & Spencer, BP, British Airways, Virgin Holidays and Sapient.
Read information on the Marketing Donut about making sales presentations.