Recently I attended a speech given by a brilliant but soft-spoken philosopher and author. Even though he had a gentle, thoughtful way of speaking, and a serious topic, he managed to connect well with the audience, and got some great chuckles with his stories and his subtle humor. It started me thinking again about how important the first few minutes of every presentation is, and what you can do to make a good connection with your audience early on.
Check your next presentation to see how many of these you are doing.
Tell a short human-interest story. This speaker made a reference to boy scouts, comparing how they were years ago, to how they are today. It illustrated a point he was making in a highly visual, personal and memorable way. And it took less than one minute.
Refer to the audience and their worlds. More important than telling them all about you, let them know you understand who they are, what their concerns are, and how you plan to address them. The old adage is true: they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Engage them in some way. Get them to do something besides just sitting. Ask a question, ask for a show of hands, ask them to greet their neighbors, ask them to write down their questions, ask them to gather in the four corners of the room according to…well, you get the idea. Unless you are mesmerizing, you really should get them engaged and involved, and do it sooner rather than later.
Start without slides. It sends a whole different energy into the room than starting with your slides on and ready to go. In fact, this speaker used no more than 10 slides in two hours, and he turned them on when needed and off when not needed. And another thing; they were all images, not bullets! Maybe you need to use slides. If so, then make them as clean and simple as possible, and start (and end) without them.
Find the humor. It could be in your story, in the audience, in a misfire or mistake, in a cartoon you show, or in something you heard or read recently. Look for humor that is comfortable and natural for you; don’t try to be a comedian. It doesn’t have to bring the house down; even a chuckle can bring us all together.
Yes, this speaker did all five of these in the first few minutes. He showed humility, depth, and passion about his topic. I bet you can too, and I would love to hear what you do in the first five minutes.