The opening and closing minutes of your presentation are your greatest opportunities to create an impact for the audience, advises conference Sunday morning October 22 kick off speaker Kathy McAfee.
“These minutes can make or break your outcome,” says McAfee, author of the new book Stop Global Boring: How to Create Engaging Presentations that Motivate Audiences to Action.
McAfee is a professional speaker, executive presentation coach, and the owner of Kmc Brand Innovation, LLC, which helps executives and entrepreneurs improve presentation and networking skills.
“You must grab the audience immediately with your opening and, when you leave them, change the audience in some way,” says McAfee. “Your opening and closing are so important to your outcome that it is critical you spend time crafting them.”
Here are her five keys to ensure your opening and closing are as powerful as they can be:
- Avoid palaver or idle chatter. Resist the temptation to waste precious minutes of your opening with a general greeting such as, “Good morning, everyone. I hope you all slept well and you are as excited as I am to be here for this meeting.” While civil and polite, such an opening is boring, seen as meaningless chatter, and a waste of your time and theirs. They know it is morning. It’s up to you to make it a good one. I advise my clients to know the first words they’ll say. The first sounds out of your mouth should not be “Umm” or “So” or “Thanks for that great introduction.”
- Move the good stuff up front. In reality, you have little time to capture and hold your audience’s attention. Don’t bore them with logistics or the agenda. Don’t save the most important information for slide fifty-eight in your PowerPoint deck. Figure out what is mission-critical and put that information at the beginning. By doing so, you won’t risk that it might get lost and never heard. Opening with the word imagine is a powerful way to begin a presentation because it triggers the visual senses of your audience. Try it.
- Begin and end without PowerPoint slides. Even if you are using some slides during your presentation, you should always start and end “naked.” That is, it’s just you and the audience. You don’t need a title slide to open your presentation. You are the title slide. You are the closing slide. Your live presence in the room is all they need to see, hear, feel, and experience. Take center stage and fill the room with your energy, ideas, and passion. Develop a short and compelling speaker introduction. Hand this to the person who will introduce you and let them position you for success.
- Avoid the weak wind-down. The close is the second most important section in your presentation. Because it’s at the end, many presenters forget to think about how they’re going to close their presentation. They simply let it happen by running out of time or asking a throwaway question such as, “Are there any questions?” Don’t let your presentation close by itself. End solidly and with purposeful intent. Demonstrate one more time that you are an expert in your field and clearly in charge of your presentation. I share some possible closings at the end of this chapter.
- Your energy will make the difference. There is no substitute for genuine enthusiasm and belief in your topic. The energy you bring through your voice, your movement, your passion, and your creativity will go a long way toward creating a more powerful, lasting impact for your audience. You control the volume of that energy by choosing the intensity level based on the response you want and your preferred presentation style.
“I also recommend that you commit your opening and closing remarks to memory,” says McAfee. “Never wing it. Practice your opening and closing remarks over and over. Starting and ending strong will enhance your presentation performance.”