You are standing on stage in front of an audience of 300. It’s 2:30PM. Your presentation slot is the third in a post-lunch afternoon sequence that precedes a much needed coffee break. You put up a title slide with your presentation topic, your name and today’s date (as if no one knows what day it is). After making the obligatory “thank you” to the M.C. you begin to offer a short bio explaining your credentials. Then, following standard operating procedure for conference presentations, you move to an agenda slide where you outline what is going to be covered. The total elapsed time for the “opening credits” of your presentation can often be as long as five minutes.
But these first five minutes are the moment of truth for your audience. They are either quickly engaged and focused on your presentation materials or they withdraw and start to play angry birds on their iPhone. Filmmakers have the same type of challenge engaging your audience, which is why many movies do not start with the opening credits. Instead they jump right into an action scene, which can last for five or ten minutes before the name of the film is even displayed. Why do filmmakers take such an approach? Because they are trying to grab the audience immediately and immerse them into the details of the storyline right up front. Why not take the same approach to your conference presentations?
James Bond Movies always have strong openings
Why not jump right into your content? Start with an interesting story that will grab the audience’s attention. It could be a personal anecdote “The day my daughter was born…” Or it could be a lesser know news story “On October 1st, 2006 150 people were killed in a train crash…” Of course, you will need to pick a story that relates to your presentation material. Ideally, you would choose something that on the surface appears to have no relation whatsoever to the topic at hand then make a startling segue into your presentation theme. I recommend pairing the story with an interesting graphic to stimulate the audience members both visually and orally.
Few people take this type of approach to conference presentations. But by disrupting the monotony of the sequence of highly structured presentations you will immediately gain the audience’s attention. Of course, you will have to work hard to keep their engagement throughout your session. But it is much easier to hold an audience’s attention after a strong opening than it is to regain a lost crowd.
So what do you do about the traditional title slide? Keep it, but make it slide number five in the deck. Contrary to popular belief PowerPoint does not require the title slide to be on the first one in a PPTX file. What about the agenda? I recommend eliminating it altogether. Keep the visuals and the content interesting and no one will even notice.