Never make this mistake in your presentation

11 September 2023  |  Category: Blog

Boring presentation where the audience falls asleepPhoto: Kris Krüg, Flickr

Recently, I gave a presentation that was quite challenging. It felt like I was pulling a dead horse from the very beginning, and that started within the first few seconds.

What went wrong?

I was invited to tell over a hundred Drenthe hospitality entrepreneurs how to integrate regional stories into their businesses. “Let me start with a story,” I thought, “so they can immediately experience what a story can do.”

So, I did just that.

I was introduced, took the microphone, and after three seconds of silence, I began to tell. “Centuries ago, there lived a farmer here in Koekange…”

Everyone listened attentively. They saw the images of the farmer on his land and empathized with his emotions. I noticed that, like me, they were immersed in the story. It was going really well. After five minutes, the farmer lived happily ever after. After the applause, I clicked to the first slide and started my substantive presentation.

Here’s the catch

I love involving the audience, so I asked a question.
I looked around and saw only neutral expressions.
So, I addressed someone directly.
Fortunately, there was a response. A very brief one…

And this continued throughout the entire presentation. Every time I tried to elicit a response, it was a struggle. Not pleasant at all.

What did I do wrong?

The most charming Belgian in the Netherlands, Guido Thys, gave me a paternal lesson back in 2009: ‘Ensure that you have interaction with the audience in the very first minute.’
But what did I do? Without making any contact, I immediately started with a story. It’s no wonder people were wondering: who is this guy, and why am I listening to this story?

Two days later…

I was asked to deliver the keynote at an IT conference. This time, it would go better for me! I went back to the method I’ve been using for over 15 years to successfully start a presentation. This method consists of three steps that warm up the audience and pique their curiosity. Here they are:

Step 1 – Identify the Audience
Tell who’s in the room. Make people feel seen and heard and give them a sense of belonging.
Step 2 – What’s in it for me?
Make it clear that they will gain something valuable from this presentation, that they will benefit from it. Make them curious about the rest with a promise.
Step 3 – Introduce Yourself
Tell something about yourself so that they know who they’re dealing with and make it relatable to them.

This worked!

Below, you can read the opening text following the step-by-step plan, as I roughly spoke it. We had fun and were actually engaged in a conversation. That interaction and positive energy make it great fun to speak to an audience!

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Successful presenting: start with the audiencePhoto: Albert W. Alberts

[Step 1]
“Good morning! It’s great to see all of you here. Throughout the day, you’ll get to enjoy super interesting technical sessions. But to kick things off, we thought it would be a good idea to start with something entirely non-technical. Something different.

I’ll introduce myself shortly, but first, it’s your turn.

Who’s in the room? Can I see some hands? Creators: architects, information analysts, designers / Builders: developers, software engineers, testers / Upkeepers: functional managers, support engineers, system operators / the Made-Possible-By group: sales, account managers, project managers, scrum masters. Did I forget anyone? Welcome, everyone!

[Step 2]

Imagine you’ve come up with something remarkable, a new approach, improved tools, or the solution to a problem you’ve been grappling with for a while. You’ve tested it in your project, and it works! You’re ecstatic. You’ve discussed it with a few colleagues, and you all agree that this is going to make work faster and more precise. It’s clear: this needs to be implemented widely. You have a meeting with the division manager, and you tell him everything about your idea. After explaining for about fifteen minutes, he interrupts you – he has to move on to his next appointment. When you’re outside, you wonder if he really understood it. And whether he’ll allocate the necessary budget for implementation…

Do you want to get your stakeholders excited about your idea? Tell a story.

Harness the power of storytelling, and you’ll have their full ATTENTION, you’ll be CONVINCING, and you and your idea will become UNFORGETTABLE.

[Step 3]
I’ve experienced that myself several times. I was once a programmer, later a project manager and consultant. It happened in 2008. We were at a team retreat, and…”

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