Beginning and Ending a Presentation

Leadership Communication Skills

Do you begin your presentation with stock phrases such as 'Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to attend this presentation' or 'In the next half hour, I'm going to update you on...'? And in so doing inadvertently communicate to your audience that they'll be lucky if they hear anything engaging in the next 30 minutes!

How you begin a presentation is critical. During the first 30-60 seconds the audience is at its most disengaged - occupied with thoughts on the meeting they have just attended or the teleconference they've just finished.

It is not the best time to give them an important message - even if you are burning to deliver it. Instead what you should do is begin with an intent to engage. As in any good old-fashioned story, if you don't engage immediately you've probably lost your audience for the duration.

The first minute or so of your presentation is known as the Opener. It has an important function: it takes the audience from the vague and general to the clear and particular. This could be a specific problem, a specific situation, or a specific obstacle that you need to overcome - most probably the reason you are there talking in the first place.

The Opener achieves its task of engaging through the use of a vivid metaphor, an interesting anecdote, an appropriate quotation, a shocking statistic - or indeed any arresting statement.

Other elements of the presentation follow such as a Key Message and the message Body. The presentation will broaden its focus embracing many details. In a presentation proposing change, for example, this might include:

The diverse causes of the problem

The actions which are needed to resolve the problem

The rewards pertaining to the audience/company of taking the proposed actions.

Then we come to the ending. As well as summing up the main points of the argument and doing various other tasks important at this stage of the presentation, you are approaching the very end of your time with your audience.

The end or 'Closer' brings everything together and moves the audience on to the final critical single action that they need to do next. By adopting a clever technique used in storytelling known as 'ring composition' at this point, the adept presenter connects back to the Opener referring to the same imagery or anecdote or statistic used in the beginning. The use of ring composition creates a satisfying loop or ring. It links all the disparate parts and turns them in to one coherent whole. The Opener is echoed in an impactful and memorable way, and our inherent human need for pattern and balance is met.

The technique is used in many story-telling traditions found from Homer's Iliad to JK Rowling's Harry Potter. The success of these stories speaks for itself.

So next time you're thinking about how to begin, think about how to end - and try this time-proven technique.

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