In attention, introductions, rhetoric, sparks, structure

Films get straight to the action. The audience is immediately engaged in the story. Films don’t begin with a long list of thank-yous and background details. The beginning is the single most powerful moment you have. Research suggests that audience attention is at its highest here. This is the optimum moment to get your key message across to them. It’s also your one chance to give the audience a clear framework for the detailed points that will follow.

What a pity, then, that so many presenters waste this moment. They give us their thanks for our listening, they tell us an irrelevant story or joke; they give us some unimportant background information about themselves or their company. This is not a formula that works at the box-office.

The majority of films aim to grip you right from the start, pitiching you into the action. We don’t know who the people are, or why they find themselves in this situation, but we are hooked. We want to know more, and trust that we will find out if we keep watching.

In our presentation, we should think of the introduction as a chance to do the following things. First, we want to get their interest – their attention. Second, we want to make sure that the audience is absolutely clear about our position – the argument we wish to make. They don’t know why we support this argument, but that is unimportant – they’ll find that out later in our talk. Finally, we want to give them a road map of the rest of our talk.

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