You are red, we are black. Can we trust you? Why should we even care what you're talking about?
Most people will advise you to make the ending the strongest part of your presentation.
While it's true that the ending should pack a good amount of punch, I do disagree that it should be the strongest part.
I do believe that the most important part of any presentation is the beginning.
Begin badly and you lose most of us in the first minutes. You might be brilliant afterward and you might have a killer ending, but you will be throwing those punches towards empty seats, because we might have already left the room (in mind, at least).
On the other hand begin well and strong, and you have our attention, our sympathy and our trust. If we trust you, we will be more inclined to trust your word and your suggestions; hence when you get to the end you can influence us easier to see things your way and take the actions you propose.
For you to achieve that, you have to answer two questions that will be playing in the back of our mind – and divide our attention – until you've given us a pleasing answer to the both of them.
#1 – Can we trust you?
First impressions count.
You already know that.
What you might not be aware of is the sheer magnitude of how much they count, or the '7-11 rule'.
According to PhD Michael Solomon, a psychologist and former Chairman of the Marketing Department Graduate School of Business, NYU people make 11 decisions about us in the first 7 seconds of contact: (1) education level, (2) economic level, (3) perceived creditability and believability, (4) trustworthiness, (5) level of sophistication, (6) sexual identification, (7) level of success, (8) political background, (9) religious background, (10) ethnic background, (11) social and professional desirability.
(It is obvious but it's worth mentioning that we also pay attention to people we want to have sex with… not a bad point when giving a presentation, mind you! It won't get you to the promise land – that is, your key audience members taking the action you want them to take – but hey, influence starts with attention.)
If we don't know you yet, you are a blank slate to us. It's your responsibility to paint the correct picture of yourself and make sure that we like what see (i.e. what we expect from you).
You can achieve this by doing simple things, like:
- arriving on time
- looking the part
- checking your equipment before your presentation
- taking the time to maybe chat with the few of us before you begin
- starting on time
- being confident, professional and above all, being yourself from the moment you arrive until you wave us goodbye
- smiling (why is this part so hard for so many people?)
- knowing our needs and expectations – and dressing, acting and speaking accordingly
First impressions not only count big time, they tend to stick. If you score high during your first try, those impressions will leave their mark on us and enhance (or taint) our very subjective perception of you (and hence your message).
The human mind is such a messed-up beautiful construct that it will happily accept everything that proves its first conclusions (be that positive or negative) and disregards most information that would prove that the opposite is true.
Answer the first question ("trust") correctly and we will start listening to what you say.
(Also, NEVER EVER say, 'Trust me, I should know…' or 'Trust me on this…' We won't. Ever. You will never make anybody trust you by ordering her to trust you.)
This leads us to the second questions which shall be emphatically paraphrased as…
#2 – Why the f@ck should we care?
You'll have maybe 2 minutes to answer this question after you've begun your presentation.
The key here is to understand two things:
even if we don't mind what's in it for you, we nonetheless do want to hear it
we decide on the emotional level and only after that do we use logic to backwards-rationalize our decision
Whenever you open your mouth – guess what, giving a presentation or a public speech qualifies – you have to make sure that you are talking about us.
Not just to us, or (God forbid) down to us.
We want to hear solutions to our problems. We want to hear our own concerns addressed. We want to achieve our dreams, we want to realize our potential, we want to reach our own North Star.
Now, we won't mind at all if you also achieve your own goals as long as you help us reach ours. If we feel that you are actually interested in us and our personal agendas, you have our attention. If we feel that you are honest and really enthusiastic, then we might even take action.
But first you do have to reach down and see our hopes, our fears and our dreams and address those correctly.
How can you do that?
Talk to us. Take some time to get to know us. Actively listen to what we say.
Give us emotional stories about people like us who were in the same situation and by following you they achieved results that we desire.
Also, enthusiasm generates enthusiasm. We will never be as excited about your idea as you will, but your passion for it will definitely make an impression on us.
Try to paint a picture of a better future instead of dwelling on the past mistakes. You will never be able to influence us if you lay out the "cold and hard truths" about what we've done/been doing.
It should be obvious that this part is not that easy to nail down and break down into bullet points or 5-step actions plans.
It requires empathy, the art of understanding people. It does take time and practice to get a feel for it. Practice and you will get better at this every time.
It's quite exciting to know how much hinges on how we perceive you and how we feel about you.
If we like what we see (positive subjective perception) and if we like how we feel (empathy, understanding, inspiration, possible excitement and fun), then you have a shooting chance that we will do as you suggest (influence).
Let us trust you, let us feel great. Give your presentation. Change our world.