The introducer is nearing the end of your introduction. The audience is waiting. Your name is announced. Applause, and you walk on to the podium. There is no greater pressure on you than in the next 7 seconds. Why?
Those that know you should want you to do well. They’re willing you to succeed and you know that. You don’t want to let them down. There may be a handful hoping you’ll fail. You’ll be dead keen on disappointing them. In either case, that’s pressure.
Those that don’t know you are looking for clues, and they’re impatient. Within your first 2 sentences they will have made up their minds about whether you’ll be wasting their time for the duration of your presentation, or if they’re in for a value charged ride. Most will be deciding quickly – in about 7 seconds. So why is it 7 seconds?
Well, it’s hardly ever 7 seconds actually. For some it’s 5 seconds, others it’s 9 – and some people take a full 21 seconds to make up their minds whether you’re a fluff ball or superwoman. Some take 2 seconds flat. That’s because an audience comprises distinctly different people who all process information at their own unique pace.
As the presenter your issue is how to prepare for those first few sentences. And the best advice I can give you is to deliver your best line first, before you say anything else. You can close with your 2nd best line, but please open with your best. If you can’t open with your very best line, then at least ensure that it’s a powerful start. Make sure that the first thing you say is so compelling that you grab the attention of everyone from the first line. For those that take a little longer to make up their minds about you (sometimes referred to as analytical) you should have a strong follow-up line too. But belt out the first one decisively and with intent. You want to start off so well, that it doesn’t matter what you say afterwards. Well, of course it does, but that’s how strong your start should be.
Because your start is so important, you want to be sure that the first few lines are rehearsed more than any other part of your speech. This is to ensure that you get it absolutely right – word for word. It’s normal for a speaker to make spontaneous adjustments during the body of a speech, but the beginning and the end should be scripted and delivered as planned with feeling and emphasis.
Why is this so important? Because if you are human you will be prone to some degree of nerves during the period leading up to your presentation. Severe nervousness may result in you going blank, so knowing your opening well should set you up nicely and help to allay those fears. It is also quite normal for a presenter to get into their stride within a few minutes, so knowing your first bit well is highly recommended. It follows then that the better you start, the quicker you will settle into your stride. This is better for you, and better for the audience. You will also feel more confident earlier, which will help you to make an impactful close.
You can liken your presentation to a cat catching a mouse. The game usually takes a while – it may be 10 minutes or an hour. But in conclusion you want to have caught the mouse. If the mouse gets away, it may well be because you failed to sufficiently hypnotize it at the start. In fact, if the mouse gets away, it usually does so early on in your presentation. That’s called losing your audience, and it happens near the start. Usually because of the way you started.
So get ahead from the start – have a great opener, and get the outcome you planned.