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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” – Dickens, A Tale of two Cities

“Call me Ishmael” – Melville, Moby Dick

“It was a dark and stormy night;” – Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” – Gibson, Neuromancer

Above, some of the most iconic opening words of some famous novels. They grab you and stick with you. Long after you may have forgotten what the novel was about, or the all of the details within the story, you remember the opening lines.

Your opening sets the stage for everything that comes after. If you are writing a novel, a memo, and email, they all can be predicated on a strong opening. Blog posts rely on this as well. You have to have a strong opening to set the hook for people to actually continue reading. But I want to go beyond writing.

Do you have a strong opening in conversations? When you are speaking at an event, do you have a strong opening? Do you start with a joke? Do you start with a fact? Do you just jump right into the meat of your presentation?

At the conference I was at this past week, I encountered about a dozen presenters. Several were really bad and a few were really good. Let me tell you what worked and didn’t.

  1. Joke telling. If you go this route, make sure it’s a good one! A bad joke or a poorly told joke will kill your audience. It can taint the entire rest of your presentation. Conversely a great joke/story told well can have your audience hanging on every word. This is an all or nothing strategy.
  2. Factoids. These are always good. Especially if they can be presented interactively. One presenter I had in the past offered door prizes for interactivity. If not else it really engaged the crowd, which is one of the primary goals of a presentation.
  3. Personal history. Ugh. Keep it short people. 30 seconds of why you are qualified to be telling me information is good. I really, really, really do not care about who your 4th grade teacher was that inspired you to become a doctor.
  4. Lecture. Jumping right into the presentation with no opening is death. You have to set my expectations. If within the first minute you are elbow deep into a case study of a hospital infrastructure upgrade, I’m zoned out. I don’t even know what facts are relevant.

This is not something that many people can just do. (I have run across a few that can start talking about anything and command attention, but they are few and far between) You need to think about this. Watch how others start and take the time to recognize the techniques they use. They will make you a MUCH better presenter.

I get to put my money where my mouth is this upcoming Friday when I get to present. Maybe someone that attends my session will comment and let me know how I did. For now, leave me a comment and let me know what works and doesn’t work for you when you are presenting (or attending a presentation).

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