Presentation Skills: Effective Openings

How to effectively open your presentation and ‘hook’ your audience to grab their attention.

Starting your presentation with an effective opening is extremely important for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, people form an opinion about each other usually within the first few minutes of meeting for the first time, and this is no different for you as a presenter. This means that the audience will have already formed some kind of opinion about you before you reach the main body of your talk, and if this opinion is positive, they will be more open to your message.

Also, starting your presentation well makes you feel confident, and speaking confidently is essential to get your message across and grab the audience’s attention. In order to do that, you need a ‘hook’, which is a way to make sure that your audience wants to listen to you.

There are several ways in which you can earn the audience’s attention, for example, by starting your presentation with an interesting story or an anecdote that links to your subject. It often helps if this story is personal, and based on an experience you had. Personal stories tell your listeners that you have experience, and that you know what you are talking about.

Revealing something personal will also help you to establish rapport between you and your audience. There may be people in the audience with whom you share certain experiences or interests and connecting to them on a personal level will make them more likely to want to listen to you.

If you decide to ‘hook’ your audience with a personal story or anecdote, it helps to do this in a conversational style, so you are easy for the audience to relate to. You could start with phrases like:

When I think about what life would be like without internet access, I …

I remember when I had to take my first important exam. I …

Have you ever been in a situation where you walk into a room and everybody starts looking at you? Well, I …

Another way of ‘hooking’ your audience is by giving them a problem to think about. By doing this you not only put them in the right mindset to be susceptible to your message, you also make them feel that you are asking them contribute to finding an answer to the problem you are going to discuss. They are becoming part of the presentation, which is another way of establishing rapport between you and the people in the room. Phrases that you could use are:

How would you react if you were given the opportunity to invest one million euros in a company of your choice?

How many people here this morning feel that they are spending too much time online?

Suppose you were given to opportunity to go back to college, what would you study?

You could also use some interesting facts or statistics to earn the attention of your audience. Doing this adds gravity to your message because what you say isn’t just your opinion but your claims will be supported either by what people believe to be generally true or by verifiable proof. What makes this work is that what you say will be supported, which makes it easier for your audience to believe you. Here are some example phrases:

Did you know that the Netherlands has twice as many bicycles as cars?

Research shows that, on average, mobile internet users spend nearly three hours online every day.

According to a recent study, around fifteen percent of the carbon released into the environment is due to deforestation.

Presentation Techniques: Effective Openings

In conclusion, you only get one opportunity to make a first impression, which means that it very important to start your presentation well. Coming up with an effective ‘hook’ will help you to grab the audience’s attention so they will be open to what you have to say.

How to Write and Elevator Pitch

How to write a clear and effective elevator pitch

How to make an elevator pitch

Before you start making your elevator pitch, there are a number of things that are important to know. You need to understand what an elevator pitch is and why they are important. Also, you need to know how to write one, and to help you do that, it is a good idea to look at some examples and tips.

What is an elevator pitch?

An elevator pitch is a short presentation that usually is under two minutes in length. It could even be under one minute. The reason why it is called an elevator pitch is because the duration of the presentation is about the same as how long it takes to ride an elevator to the top of a tall building. Another way in which the term elevator pitch could be explained is that it was based on the hypothetical situation that you could run into an important business executive while sharing an elevator and that you would have the length of the ride to run your business idea by him/her.

An elevator pitch could be about yourself – for instance, if you are looking for a job – or it could be about a business idea, a product or a service.

Why is an elevator pitch important?

You could look at an elevator pitch as a mini-presentation that is always ready to go, and there is a variety of reasons why it is helpful to have one. First of all, an elevator pitch could serve as a good icebreaker to start a conversation and it is a useful way to get a lot of information across in a short time. Also, your pitch could work as an effective transition from the online-version of you, to the real-life version of you. It could serve as a way to be more than a person on a phone or a screen and could help you to make an impression. A well-prepared elevator pitch also helps you in exciting or stressful situations in which you want to rely on information that you have already thought about and prepared. Finally, an elevator pitch may also create opportunities for you to take the lead in conversations in which you need to make an impact.

How to write an elevator pitch

An effective elevator pitch is made up of four parts. First, you need to introduce yourself in a way that is short but memorable. Also, you need to provide a summary of what you do. This is important because it helps the listener to assess whether you, or the idea, product or service you provide, could be of help. Once you have made this clear to your audience, you need to explain what you want. In other words, this is the part in which you explain what you have to offer, or which problem you solving. Finally. your elevator pitch should always end with a call to action. This means that you have to make something happen that will help you to maintain the relationship between you and the person you are pitching to. This could be trying to set up a meeting, offering to call, sending an email, etc.

Now let’s look at these four elements in a bit more detail.

Explaining who you are

When you meet someone for the first time, you need to say hello and give your full name. Depending on what the custom is, you accompany this with a handshake, or a bow, etc. After that, you may want to add a pleasantry like, ‘It’s nice to meet you.’, ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you.’ or something along those lines.

Explaining what you do

Explaining what you do starts with describing your background and briefly giving an overview of your education. This helps your listener to determine who you are. After that, you need to explain what your work experience is, so the person you are pitching to can assess whether your skills and your background could be useful. It also helps to emphasize any specialties or strengths you may have, because these may set you apart from potential competitors. Here’s an example of how to introduce yourself and explain what you do:

Hi, my name is Yui. It’s so nice to meet you! I’m a PR manager with a special focus on overseeing successful initiative launches from beginning to end. Along with my seven years of professional experience, I recently graduated with an MBA from Osaka University, with a focus on consumer trust and retention…

Explaining what you want

After you have explained who you are and have told your listener a bit about your background, you need to make clear what you want. What that is depends on the situation, of course. You may want to pitch yourself, an idea you have, a product of a service, but what all these have in common is that they should all include an ‘ask’. In your ask’ you specifically state the goal of your pitch. This could be a job opportunity, an internship, or just the contact information for a follow-up meeting.

Secondly, you need to explain the ‘value’ you bring to the table. In other words, you need the explain what your audience has to gain by listening to you so they understand what you have to offer.  Let’s look at the following example:

I find the work your PR team does to be innovating and refreshing—I’d love the opportunity to put my expertise to work for your company…

Finishing with a call to action

Now that your audience knows who you are, what you do, and what you want, you need to end your pitch with a call to action, in which you explain what you would like to happen next. This could be a request for setting up a meeting, getting the opportunity to express your interest in a job, etc. What is important is that you make something happen that will lead to further contact between you and the people you spoke to.

If your request is agreed to, you need to thank your audience for their time and obtain their contact information. Be sure to end your conversation with a ‘task-oriented’ goodbye, like:

Thank you for your time. I will send you a follow-up email tonight. Have a great day.

Here is another example:

Would you mind if I set up a quick call next week for us to talk about any upcoming opportunities on your team?

Examples

As mentioned, what your pitch will look like very much depends on what you would like to achieve or what your ‘ask’ is, so next are some examples that have been put into context.

Context: Adding a contact

Job title: Business analyst

Hello! My name is Anwar, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I have a background in Business Analytics with just over 10 years’ experience creating data-driven solutions for various business problems. Specifically, I love and have had great success in the strategic evaluation of data analysis with our executive staff. It sounds like you do similar work—I would love to keep in touch to learn more about what you and your company do.”

Context: Seeking a job opportunity

Job title: Media Planner

Hi, I’m Tom. I’ve spent the last eight years learning and growing in my role as Media Planner, where I’ve developed and optimized strategic media plans for our top client and managed a subset of planners as a Team Lead. One of my proudest achievements was a pro-bono project that was recognized as a top non-profit campaign last year. I’ve been interested in moving to non-profit for quite a while, and love what your company does in education. Would you mind telling me about any media planning needs you may have on the team?

Elevator pitch tips

Of course, your elevator has no value on paper; it needs to be presented orally, so you can make an impression. In order to prepare your pitch, there are a number of things that you can do. First, it helps to read the pitch out loud to yourself to detect any mistakes and opportunities to say things more concisely. Also, you may want to ask a friend to help you practice out loud so you can receive some feedback. This will give you an opportunity to polish and finetune your pitch. Finally, keep in mind that most people, when they get nervous, tend to speed up and start rushing through their speech. Just remember, to keep your pitch short and concise and then take your time and speak at a normal pace.

Presentation Skills: Talking about Visuals

A tutorial on how to present graphs, tables, and charts in an effective and engaging way

Many formal presentations include having to talk about numbers. These numbers could be research data, sales figures, or many other types of statistics. Numbers in a presentation, however, are not very memorable, especially not if you also need to talk about how different numbers relate to each other. Because data, exact sales figures, etc. are so difficult to remember, it often makes sense to present them in some kind of visual, like a graph, a chart, or a table. However, talking about these types of visuals is difficult to do, and not doing it well will often cause your audience to lose interest in what you have to say. Presenting graphs, charts and tables only works if it is done in an effective, engaging, and well-structured way. To achieve this, attention needs to be paid to:

  • Introducing the visual
  • Commenting on, and introducing the visual
  • Talking about change and development

Good visuals need to be highly memorable and,generally speaking, when presenting numbers and statistics, the simpler your visual is, the more people are likely to remember it. It also means that anything you don’t talk about should not be in the visual.

Good visuals should also reduce the amount of talking for the speaker. If the graph represents something that could be explained in an effective way using only a few words, you should not use a visual because then that would only be a distraction.

Finally, a good visual should help the speaker. This means that graphs, charts and tables should only be used for details that are difficult to explain. The visual should speak for the presenter and make his job easier, so you should always ask yourself whether the visual is necessary and whether it actually makes your presentation better.

Another important question you should ask yourself is which type of visual is most effective for what you want to achieve. Graphs, tables, and charts all do different things well, and it is therefore important to select the right type of visual.

A line graph, for example, works well if you want to show how a quantity of something develops over time. For example, this could be how many muffins were sold per day during a given week.

A bar graph, on the other hand, works well for comparisons. When you want to visualize in which month to most ice cream was sold, for instance.

Pie charts are often used when showing percentages, or quantities as part of a larger total.

Tables are of the most difficult to talk about because they often show many individual numbers on the screen at once without showing a connection between them, or a clear development. For this reason, when using a table, it may be a good idea to focus the audience’s attention on specific details by highlighting the ones you are talking about while talking about them.

Finally, flow charts are good at showing processes, or other things that can be divided into steps with a certain order.

As mentioned before, it is very important that you choose the correct type of visual for the right job, because failing to do so will most likely cause your audience to lose interest in your message.

Introducing the Visual

After you have put your visual on the screen, the next step is shifting the focus of the audience to the screen. You need to tell them to stop looking at you, and start looking at the screen. You can do this simply by pointing at the screen and saying something like:

Let’s have a look at this.

or

As you can see here, …

After you have told the people you are addressing to focus their attention on the screen, you need to tell them what they are looking at, because you don’t want them to spend their time studying the visual while they ought to be listening to you. You should explain the visual by saying something like:

This graph shows the amount of traffic to our website throughout the year.

 or

This bar graph compares the number of people who commuted by car to those who commuted by bicycle between 2015 and 2020.

The next step is to make a general comment about the graph as a whole, or about a general pattern or trend, like in these examples:

As you can see, the average turnover shows a steady upward trend.

or

What is clear is that the number of visitors to the Netherlands fluctuates throughout the year.

The final step in introducing your visual is to highlight the part of the visual you want to talk about in more detail. You could say something like:

If we look at 2018, …

Or

The period between March and September shows …

Commenting on the Visual

After you have highlighted a specific area in the visual, you need to make a comment about it. This means telling your audience what a specific number or data point in the visual represents. You give meaning to the numbers. For example, you could say:

2017 shows a significant spike in the number of online sales.

or

Here the table shows an anomaly in the results.

Then, after commenting on a specific section of the visual, you need to interpret it. You tell the audience what the underlying causes were that explain the detail you chose to discuss, or which conclusion can be drawn from it. To illustrate, you could say something like:

This number can be explained by the abnormally hot summer we had.

or

What we can learn from this is that we need to increase production.

It is important to repeat the cycle HighlightComment Interpret for each detail you choose to discuss. In this way the structure of your talk becomes clear.

Change and Development

A mentioned, after you have selected the best type of visual for presenting you data on the screen, you need to talk about it. Generally speaking, this is difficult to do in an engaging way, so it is easy to lose your audience’s interest while doing it, but in order to make sure that they won’t lose interest, you need to use effective language that can capture your points in a concise way. When talking about a line graph, for instance, it is important to use a range of different vocabulary that doesn’t only comment on how the data develops – so, whether the line goes up or down – it is also, helpful to comment on the speed at which it happens or how significant the changes that you choose to discuss are. The verbs in the table can help you do this:

increase/decreasedeclinehit a lowplummet
rise/fallremainstabilizedrop
fluctuategrowshrinkplunge
recoverpeakslumpShoot up
bottom outexpandnarrowTake off

Here are some example sentences:

The table illustrates that profits have stabilized during this quarter.

or

Last year, stock prices plummeted due to the trade dispute.

If you want to comment on the speed and the importance of the developments in the graph you can add effective adjective or adverbs to your comments, like in the table.

substantialnotabledisastrous
rapidspectacularsteady
moderatedisappointingslight
enormousencouragingsignificant

So, you could say something like:

The graph suggests an encouraging trend.

or

In 2018, overhead costs were cut significantly.

Conclusion

The example below shows a basic example of talking about a graph in an effective way, using a clear and concise structure.

So, I’d like to draw your attention to this graph.(Drawing attention to the screen) What it illustrates is the number of people killed in car accidents between 2000 and 2010 (Explaining the visual).  As you can see, the number fluctuated significantly during that time (General comment), but I’d like to focus on the year 2014 (Highlighting), when the number of casualties increased dramatically (Commenting). The explanation for this sudden rise in deaths can be found in the extreme weather during that period (Interpreting).