Within 30 seconds of opening your presentation, your listeners have reached a verdict. They decide to either pay attention or daydream.
Your job is to reduce what Joey Asher, a speech consultant in Atlanta, calls “audience angst.” If they sense that you’re going to waste their time, tell them what they already know or lapse into a dreary monotone, then anxiety will fill the room.
Defeat will set in before you get to your first slide.
To reassure your listeners that their time will be well spent, use your first few sentences to define your goal, specify what’s at stake and identify what everyone can gain by tuning in.
Say you want to explain changes in your organization’s rules and regulations to your workforce. Begin with, “The changes affect all of us, so I’d like to discuss the reasons behind them and ensure that everyone understands why we’re doing this. Because of new regulatory requirements, our continued success depends on our ability to follow the new rules. Best of all, you can actually save time and avoid busywork with these rules.”
That’s not sexy, but it’s succinct and respectful. You compel people to listen by laying out exactly what matters without wasting words.
Sloppy speakers get to the point in a roundabout way. Instead of jumping directly to the most critical issue, they start with long-winded stories, unfunny jokes or extraneous asides.
Asher warns executives not to dump irrelevant data on an anxious audience by opening with, “Before we get to what we all know is the crucial issue, let me provide some background on our methodology for this project.”