If you were in the audience, which would you rather experience: a boring recitation or a compelling conversation? No contest, right? So why do so many people lean toward "boring recitation" in their presentations?
Habit? Fear of screwing up (and thus the crutch of text-heavy slides)? Maybe they don't know better? Or they do know better, but have to give an "approved" (and deadly) presentation. No matter the reason, there's no reason why you have to be part of that group.
You know when the tone is set for a presentation? With the very first slide—even before you open your mouth, if that slide happens to be displayed before you begin. Imagine that: You're on the way to engaging your audience or turning them off before you say a single word. Sorry to be the voice of doom, but that's really the way it is.
Why? Because a. we're all wired to make snap judgments; and b. your audiences have seen too many weak, misguided, or simply bad presentations to have any grand expectations of being captivated by the next one they see (which would be yours).
What's wrong with title slides? They tend to be formal, rather than active or engaging. They typically feature the name of a product or service; something dry like "Marketing in Q1"; something generic like "New Products from XYZ Corp."; or maybe just the name of the company, followed by the words "the global leader in [insert product or service]."
Do you think any of those things are going to get your audience's mind racing? Emphatically, no!
Whether your presentation is for an internal audience, a keynote, or a selling situation, if the first thing you put in front of their eyes is anything like one of the above examples, you could be shooting yourself in the foot. And don't think you earn special points for putting your prospect's or customer's logo on the slide—they didn't take time out of their day to admire their logo.
If you really want to engage their minds from the start, put the goal—their goal—for the presentation on the first slide. You'll instantly separate your presentation from all the rest. Here's a before/after example:
Title slide. Hi, I'm Joe Schlabotnick from XYZ Corporation. I'd like to tell you about all the great products we have that can transform your business, and give you an idea of why we're the global leader in development technologies. (Audience reaction: Augh! Get me out of here!)
Goal slide. Hi, I'm Joe Schlabotnick. We're here to discuss simplifying your data integration efforts. (Audience reaction: Great! That's exactly what we're struggling with.)
See how a goal slide shapes the conversation, right at the start? You'll still get a chance to talk about your product, service, or idea, but you've given it a strong, personal context (your audience's) into which to be considered. That's a much more powerful position to be in.
Here are the keys to creating an engaging goal slide:
• Use only three to seven words.
• Lead with an active verb.
• Focus it on what they want to achieve.
That's it! Three simple parts and a reframing in your head from "title" to "goal" slide. You'll have a much stronger start than any joke, gimmick, or flashy opening you can imagine.
John Windsor is president of Creating Thunder, a Boulder, Colo.-based communications training and consulting company and the author of YouBlog, He has held executive positions in marketing, sales, and business development and has worked with companies like American Express, Reuters, Staples, and Knight-Ridder.