The Art of Presenting: No Second Chances to Make that First Impression

by Kristine Kussro

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.  We have all heard this before and know how important first impressions are.  This holds true for presentations as well.  As a leader, you need to deliver your presentations and messages with great precision.  What we do in business often comes down to how we work a room, how we engage with people, and how we communicate to get our message across.  So what is the art of making an engaging and memorable presentation?  Here are just a few key points to help you make that great impression when making a presentation.

Begin With the Unexpected

The first 30-60 seconds of a presentation are the most critical.  The audience is critically scrutinizing you right from the start.  You need to quickly set the expectations for yourself.  You need to capture the attention of your audience immediately or you will be fighting an uphill battle for the rest of the presentation trying to engage your audience.  A great example of grabbing your audience is Steve Job’s Commencement Address at Stanford University in 2005.

“I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world.  Truth be told, I never graduated from college, and this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation.” 

Create a Strong, Clear Story

When you open with a personal story that relates to your topic, the audience is instantly drawn in.  Everyone wants to hear a personal narrative of how you succeeded or even failed along the way, and how you rose above all adversity to get to where you are today.  Steve Jobs continued his commencement address captivating his audience with his enthralling personal narrative.

“Today, I want to tell you three stories from my life.  That’s it, no big deal-just three stories.  The first story is about connecting the dots.  I dropped out of Reed College after the first six months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another eighteen months or so before I really quit.  So why’d I drop out?  It started before I was born…”

Less is More

Do not overwhelm your audience with an abundance of slides!  Sometimes as engineers we tend to think that more information is better.  The more slides the better!  In the corporate world this is known as “death by slides”.  This creates blank stares, people checking their phones, and sometimes an afternoon nap for your audience.  Also, nothing kills a slide as much as clutter.  Eye charts are not allowed!  Make your slides clear and concise.

Know Your Audience

Do your homework.  It is important that you spend time finding out who is in your audience.  What are their main interests?  Why are they coming to hear you speak?  What are you giving them to take away that is of value?  If you know your audience you will surely engage them.  Make eye contact.  The difference between a good presentation and a great presentation is when your participants feel like you are speaking directly to them.  Give them a reason to come back.

Call to Action

So you have delivered a great presentation to an auditorium full of people and they are impressed!  What now?  Always allow several minutes for questions and answers.  Take the time afterwards to stay and talk to people individually.  And always make your twitter, website, and email address available for questions and comments that come up later.  Always leave your audience wanting more!

Steve Jobs closed his commencement speech with the words “Stay Hungry.  Stay Foolish.”  This is great food for thought.  It leaves the audience with a challenge.  Never be satisfied and always push yourself.  Strive to do things people say cannot be done.

Obviously, few of us will get the opportunity to give commencement addresses at places like Stanford University, but the basics of presenting still apply.  If anyone has any unique attention grabbing presentation openers or creative ways to keep your audience engaged, please email them to me at [email protected].

To see Steve Job’s entire inspirational commencement speech, visit the following website:

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