What makes an exceptional presentation? Obviously, it needs to provide plenty of data to support the presenter’s primary objective. But, believe it or not, the heart of a presentation— the gist, the meat, the essence of it— isn’t what makes audiences sit up and take notice.
It doesn’t matter how flashy or informative a presentation (even one designed with a free PowerPoint alternative) might be. It’s a strong opening and closing that will make an audience care. Without these key elements— and slides to represent each— all the research and preparation put into a presentation are for naught. An effective presentation will start out strong and end on a powerful note.
Attracting audience members’ attention from the beginning of your presentation is vital if there’s any hope of getting them to care about what you have to say. Once they’ve tuned you out, it’s all over. Therefore, make a bold statement, intrigue them and stimulate their curiosity of what will come next.
According to Darlene Price, president of Well Said Inc., and author of, “Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results,” when we speak, we only have about 60 seconds to capture an audience's attention, establish our credibility, familiarize the audience to our topic and motivate it to listen.
“You need to put the art in the start — the most important part of the work,” Price told Business Insider.
At the same time, the end of a presentation is the best chance to leave a lasting impression on an audience. Don’t just describe your final point and then let your presentation trail off, leaving audiences to guess when you’re done. A powerful presentation ending will include calls to action, visions of the future and words to live by.
Do you have plenty of content and professionally-designed slides for your presentation, but need some help opening and closing with a bang? Check out these eight memorable ways to open and close a presentation.
1. Start with a, “Thank you,” instead of ending with one.
Instead of ending your presentation with a thank you, try starting with one. By welcoming your audience and thanking it for attending your presentation, for giving you the opportunity to speak or make a pitch to it, you start the whole thing off with a positive first impression.
This step of public speaking not only shows your sincerity, but it also establishes a sense of respect, trust and community with your audience. Plus, by showing your appreciation in the beginning, you leave yourself room to end with a strong call to action.
2. Hook your audience with a bold statement.
Get your audience on board with listening by making a bold statement to hook its attention. A confident assertion signals confidence and peaks the audience’s interest, but don’t make a statement that is just crazy or serves no other purpose than providing shock value.
Whatever the statement, the rest of your presentation has to back it up. Examples of strong hooks include short, yet surprising or motivational stories, thought-provoking analogies or metaphors, shocking statistics related to the presentation topic or even unique yet inspiring quotes by well-known figures from the past or present.
3. Transition between presentation points.
It’s easy for audience members to lose focus in between stages of even the most titillating presentations. Using strong linking and transitional phrases help bring them back around. These statements are the glue that holds a presentation together.
Strategic transitions will help an audience move from one idea to the next. To bridge the gap between a hook and the rest of the presentation, try asking, for example, open-ended and rhetorical questions that push the audience to ponder about what is coming next.
Make eye contact with your audience members and make sure they are still engaged with the information you’re presenting. Carefully-chosen transitions are powerful ways to not only introduce the next segment, but also pull in an audience’s attention all over again.
4. Tell a personal story.
Telling a brief, personal story early in a presentation is an effective way to connect with an audience. When people hear the speaker tell his or her own story, they tend to pay attention.
Plus, telling a 60- to 90-second narrative shows the audience you’re invested in the topic and opens an opportunity to show you’re passionate about the information you’re presenting. If you don’t have any personal experience with the topic, you can substitute a historic story, a fable or an anecdote, instead.
Be sure to follow a story arc, including a main character, a challenge or obstacle relating to the presentation topic, a tale of how that challenge was overcome and what lessons were learned by the protagonist that can also be applied to the audience.
5. Show the audience how it benefits.
Why should the audience care? You’ve grabbed its attention with a hook, and you’ve transitioned to a personal story to which it can relate. Now you want to engage audience members with how the advice or plan presented will benefit them, their business, their loved ones or their financial stability.
Don’t assume the audience already knows. This is also an optimal opportunity to show the audience, not simply stop with telling it. Using a sense of optimism, paint a vivid picture of the future benefits with descriptive and emotional words. Once the audience envisions the positive outcome, it will start to believe in the possibility.
6. Summarize key takeaways.
After you’ve presented the primary content, it’s important to summarize the presentation’s key takeaways before transitioning to a strong end. Let the audience know you’re starting to wrap things up, and make sure it’s on board with what it should take away from the presentation, using simple, straightforward language.
Often, savvy presenters will break down their content to three takeaways and summarize those, but others will round off their message by referencing back to the opening hook. Doing so not only summarizes the presentation, but also completes the circle of the topic, connecting back to the start.
If a question was posed in the opening, it can be answered in the takeaway. It can also be a prime opportunity to explain the moral of a story told earlier in the presentation.
7. End with an ask.
Any effective presentation will feature a call-to-action toward the end. What was your purpose for giving the presentation, and what do you want the audience to do after receiving your message?
Again, don’t assume the audience automatically knows the desired next step, and don’t use overly flowery language that leaves any room for imagination. Be clear and concise. The clearer and more specific the call-to-action, the more people will take the advice.
8. Finish with a clincher.
Many speakers will end their presentations with the call to action. But we also like to finish everything off with a clincher— one last story, compelling statistic or inspirational quote that serves as the cherry on top of an ice cream presentation.
Don’t take this opportunity to summarize the previous content; another rehashing will just bore both the speaker and the audience. Instead, end the presentation with humor or inspiration. Find a relative and memorable yet unique quotation or story from master storytellers like Mark Twain or Steve Jobs, presenters who often left audiences with ideas to ponder long after they parted company.
Including a statement so profound that it later turns into a soundbite or a meme can extend the presentation’s life far beyond its scheduled time frame. The clincher is also an effective ending slide to a visual presentation.
What elements do you most use when developing effective presentation openings and closings?