Let’s pretend you’re an expert on aviation safety. Your brain is an encyclopedia of statistics on the subject, and you are delivering the keynote speech at the 2014 Symposium of World Transportation Authorities.
You start with the perfunctory thank yous: “Thanks for that introduction, Alan. I’d like to thank you all for being here today…” move onto the preamble (“Historically, commercial airlines…”) and then carry on with a segue (“I was thinking the other day…”)
These are powerful sedatives. They lull your audience and dull the impact you’re going to make with that amazing thing you’re going to say once you’ve finished with the front matter (save the thank yous for the end!), the prologue (those belong in books!) and the lead in (GET TO THE POINT ALREADY!).
For a more arresting kickoff to your presentation, consider cutting out the lead-up to your interesting statistic, analogy, or anecdote, and go for the jugular:
Fact: 43% of pilots admit to falling asleep during flight. 33% of them report waking up to find their co-pilots have fallen asleep as well.**
Right off the bat, you’ve piqued interest, curiosity and perhaps even alarm or fear. Your audience is on board with you, and now the room has a palpable energy and your presentation has momentum. Sustaining that momentum is another matter altogether, but you can’t sustain what you never had in the first place…
Interesting presentation-starters can include, but are not limited to:
o a carefully-crafted analogy that you’ll continue to weave in and out of your presentation;
o a pertinent metaphor or simile (yeah, I’m getting all high school English up in here!);
o a wild & unknown statistic; or
o a topically appropriate joke
– with the caveat that you’ve nailed the demo- and psychographics of your target audience, and have tailored your presentation to their needs!
Moving on! You’ve wowed the crowd with content that you’ve:
o practiced in front of the mirror;
o gotten feedback on from a trusted advisor or mentor; and
o know backwards and forwards and can deliver with only a few crib notes;
o delivered in a carefully paced manner, using various inflections and avoiding monotone.
o curated with your own bag of tricks to keep people interested and engaged.
And after your allotted time, the presentation is drawing to a close. There are the obvious things to do – thank the audience, thank the organizing hosts, whathaveyou.
There are some factions within the public speaking community who think a Thank you is unnecessary, but I’m much too Canadian to suggest ignoring the manners yo’ momma taught you (though, being so Canadian, I also feel that you’re welcome to completely disagree. Sorry!)
I do think, however, that you can craft a closing paragraph that begins with a tidy thank you sentence (this isn’t the Academy Awards, KEEP IT BRIEF!) Something like “Thank you to the World Transportation Authorities for having me here today, and to you for your attention” will suffice!
But is that really the last thing you want to leave on the audience’s mind? After all of your hard work, do you really want to exit the stage with a thank you and a wave?
What’s your call to action? What do you want your audience to do as a result of all the information you’ve plugged into their brain? Or, what do you want them to remember you for? Again, you know your audience, so you’ve customized this. And you’ve created a visual to go with the punch line, so that it stays behind you for the audience to appreciate after you’ve left. Your ending now looks something like this:
“Thank you to the World Transportation Authorities for having me here today, and to you for your attention. I know my opening statistic was terrifying, and I wanted to put that in context, so consider this: 1 person in 2,067,000 has a chance of dying in a plane crash. 1 person in every 423,548 has a chance of dying from falling out of bed.” **
And then make your exit to thunderous applause. Bravo!
(**Note to readers: this may or may not be a real statistic!)