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     Give Zing To Your Presentation

Recently, I gave a different kind of talk on presentation skills. Periodically, I stepped out of the speaker role and EXPLAINED why I said or did what I did. It made all the difference in the world for the audience to know WHY I was speaking the way I was.

Since speaking in front of people is the number one fear we all seem to experience, I’m sharing information on two vital presentation parts that I covered: the OPENING and the CLOSING. After all, those are the most remembered parts whether you are presenting at an in-house meeting, an “after-meal” talk or a conference workshop.

REHEARSE your opening until you can carry it off with ease no matter what happens. This is going to be the most memorable part of your talk -- and a poor opening can turn an audience agaginst you, even if what you have to say after has value to them. Since it makes your first IMPRESSION, be sure it doesn’t contain any “ahs,” “ums” or pauses in the wrong places. Here are some suggestions of dynamic ways in which to begin any talk.

An anecdote, personal story, fable, or other story is a great way to start out. It's friendly, warms up the audience, and gives you a minute to enjoy their company before launching into your main topic. Keep it relatively SHORT -- you don't want to tell a 20-minute story when people are chomping at the bit to hear the rest of your talkFind one that has humor and a good punch line so you can build up to the climax. The key is to make sure the story fits your TOPIC and can lead right into it.

Quotes are designed to ENCAPSULATE an important thought in a small number of words. They are sound bites -- quick, to the point, and memorable. One that than be easily adapted to many situations is this one by Abraham Lincoln:

“Things may come to those who wait, but only what is left behind by those who hustle.”

Then, you can easily move into your topic by adding, “And, today we’re going to talk about the kind of hustle we need to make us the number one real estate agency in the state” -- or whatever your talk is. If this one doesn't fit your needs, look through a resource like Bartlett's Quotations for just the right STARTER.

Asking a question INVOLVES your audience in the speaking process. Instead of simply sitting and listening to you, they get to be a part of the action as well. The trick is to ask a question that you already know the answer to -- where you are fairly sure of the RESPONSE you will get from the audience. Asking a "How many people have..." question is usually a good way to lead into your talk. For example, "How many people have ever misplaced a bill and not paid it on time because the piles on your desk were too big?" for a workshop on organizing your paperwork.

This gives your talk a FLAVOR all its own and one that cannot be duplicated by anyone else -- and it helps your audience get to feeling like they really KNOW you as a person. “When I was a little girl growing up on a farm in the outskirts of a town of 83 people, I used to stand on my porch and pretend the fields were filled with people who were listening to the stories I made up. Those were my first rehearsals!”

5. Other effective openings can be to:
  • SUMMARIZEthe main points of your presentation -- just a quick outline of what you plan to cover can be a good starter, especially if you plan to give a technical or informtion-packed presentation

  • ask a RHETORICAL question -- these are questions to which you don't expect an answer, but which can illustrate a point that you're getting ready to cover

  • give a startling STATISTIC -- impressive data can always get people's attention, especially when it outlines a serious problem in our society or an issue your audience can relate to

Don’t just let it happen! The mark of professional presenters is that they end on TIME (even when they have to start late) and make it sound as if the audience got the ENTIRE message with a planned close. Here are a few suggestions for ways to end your talk...

When you do this, you come full CIRCLE with your talk. You don't leave the audience feeling as though you've rambled off in ten different directions from where you began -- but that you had a purpose for every point you hit along the way. This can help you REINFORCE a good beginning and give you two shots at making your point in the most remembered spots.

Quotes are as useful at the END of a talk as at the beginning. You give extra power to your quote if you can relate it to the quote you gave at the start of your talk. Again, coming full circle.

This is one of the most popular ways to wrap up a talk. It goes along with the three-point theory many people use: tell you audience what you are GOING to tell them; tell them; then, tell them what you TOLD them.

Again, you can use your own experiences to sum up the points you have been making. However, curb your desire to RAMBLE on about yourself. Say just enough to peak interest and close your subject appropriately.

If you want something specific to HAPPEN as a result of your talk, you have to ASK for it. This is particularly true in business presentations. You’ve told them how great your new widget is. Now, ask the board for more funds to produce and market it. Or, you've suggested some steps for people to improve their lives using your services. Tell them exactly what the next steps are for putting those ideas to work in their lives (preferably by hiring you). CLOSE the sale!

One important warning: An ending is just that: an ending. It is not the PRELUDE to an ending! Here’s one more story to make the point:

One evening the person introducing Thomas Edison for his after-dinner talk went on and on and on. One of the things he said was that Edison invented the talking machine. When Edison finally got the podium, he said he needed to clarify a point the announcer had made: "I didn’t invent the talking machine. God did that. I just invented a way to turn it off."


Lillian is called a networking expert by the Chicago Tribune and the business networking authority by the Association Forum of Chicagoland. She helps entrepreneurs through Fortune 100 employee improve business development, business networking & communication skills.

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