Audience Applauding Speaker At Business Conference

A presentation that doesn’t start with impact is like a plane that doesn’t take off. You may have the fuel, the pilot and the passengers but the journey doesn’t begin until the wheels leave the ground.

As a presenter, you have the same challenge as the pilot; you have to get that plane off the ground.

Your audience will decide within the first 90 seconds whether they believe you are the person to take them on the journey they turned up for. They will decide very quickly whether they are going to take you seriously and if you are worth paying attention to.

It is vital that you capture their attention immediately. You won’t do that by telling them your name, position, how many offices you have and how many customers you have. Don’t say this either; ‘Good morning, thank you for coming, today I’d like to talk to you about…’

If they have no idea before they turn up what you are going to be speaking about you’ve already done them a huge disservice.

At Mindful Presenter, we coach professionals to connect with their audience, not just present to them. That connection begins the very moment you speak. Here are 4 solid tips that are tried and tested to ensure that you capture not only your audience’s attention, but their interest and curiosity too.

  1. Make them think, not just listen

Most of us are conditioned to turn up to a presentation and sit there passively listening. Many presenters suffer from the ‘Curse of Knowledge’ which is a ubiquitous human affliction that compels them to tell their audience everything they know.

Your audience doesn’t need to know everything you know.

They will be expecting you to drone on for the first few minutes because that is what they are used to. The Mindful Presenter is fully aware that their first challenge is to break this pattern, challenge the status quo and get their audience thinking.

I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of university students one evening last week about public speaking. Mindful of the fact that most of them were probably already mentally exhausted from a full day of lectures, when they sat in front of me at 6pm the last thing they needed was another lecture.

I opened by asking them a question; ‘Has anyone been to Disneyworld?’

A room full of highly intelligent students had given up an evening to learn about public speaking and I ask them a question like that with a huge picture of Mickey Mouse on my slide.

Do you think I got their attention, interest and curiosity?

We opened a brief discussion about who had been to Disney and I then told them a short, relevant and compelling story about my first experience. Within moments I then asked them another question which really got them thinking.

2- Be pleasantly controversial

Most audiences are accustomed to presenters sharing information they could easily read for themselves in a fraction of the time. Audiences are more discerning than they have ever been and they turn up knowing full well that they will very quickly forget most of what the presenter shared with them.

Many presenters set out to ‘inform and engage’ their audience. At Mindful Presenter we believe that’s a prerequisite and on its own it’s not enough; we have to work harder.

I recently opened a presentation to a group of senior leaders asking them how many of them by a show of hands were nervous about public speaking.

Only a few people raised their hands.

I then shared a controversial quote: “There are two types of speakers: Those who get nervous and those who are liars.” Mark Twain

Needless to say, as you may imagine, I garnered a few death stares and quite a few shuffling feet.

Was my intention to insult a room full of highly intelligent and successful senior people?

Absolutely not.

My intention was to capture their attention, interest and curiosity.

We spent the next few minutes exploring Mark Twain’s perspective.

3- Share an experience

Data, facts and numbers appear to be the norm in many business presentations today. Unless that data is used simply and powerfully to immediately capture your audience’s attention, it’s best saved for later.

A better way to open before you commence giving them the numbers is to share a short, relevant and meaningful personal experience that your audience can relate to.

In a previous article I wrote; ‘Storytelling in business – 5 real examples to learn from’ I said:

My son is all grown up now and working but I still remember his very first day at school. He sat with his mother and I in the front row of the assembly hall listening to his headmaster give his talk about what we could all expect for the next 7 years. Less than 10 minutes into the headmaster’s speech Reece looked up at his mother and I with a tear in his eye and said ‘Daddy this story is giving me a headache, what time will it finish’?

It occurred to me in that very moment that the headmaster was also giving me a headache. Worse still I realised that after the morning assembly I would be back at work listening to professional after professional giving me another headache in the form of a presentation. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I recognised that I would probably be doing exactly the same to fellow colleagues.

My son made me realise then, all of those years ago that there must be another way to present your ideas and that ‘connecting is everything’

4-Use the pleasure/pain principle

Whatever you may think about his work, quite a number of psychoanalytic concepts developed by Sigmund Freud have stood the test of time. One of them is the pleasure and pain principle.

In its simplest form this principle suggests we are all driven to find pleasure and avoid pain.

The principle offers us a very powerful way to open a presentation with impact. Imagine, the first thing your audience hears from you is the size of the prize if they listen to your idea, or the size of the pain if they don’t.

How would you feel if you attended a Mindful Presenter presentation skills training course and the first thing your coach said was?

‘Research tells us that the human mind is conditioned to wander around 47% of the time. Your audience aren’t exempt from that conditioning. Today, I’m going to show you how to get your audiences attention and make sure you keep it’


‘In a typical business presentation your audience will forget circa 90% of the information you shared with them by the time they return to their desk or their car’

How does that make you feel about presenting?’

At Mindful Presenter it concerns us deeply that the common audience expectation for a business presentation is that it will boring. It doesn’t have to be that way and it all starts with the first words you utter.

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Read more: 7 Real Examples of How to Open a Presentation With Impact