Spoiler alert!

I just finished the first draft of a sales PowerPoint for a new solution that my company is developing. Following my own blog’s advice (see links to a few relevant posts below) I crafted a compelling storyline, and structured the presentation following AIDA and Golden Circle principles.

Then a colleague sent me this comment: “Maybe you should start with an executive summary slide to set the scene…”

If you go to a movie theater, you don’t want the film to begin with a spoiler, do you? You don’t want to be told during the very first minutes who dunit, or which main characters will die in the next one and a half hour. Unless, in the exceptional case, when the screenplay’s structured as a flash back. As a marketer, however, I seriously doubt if it makes any sense to tell the story of an exciting new product in the past tense…

Image from Scared to Death, directed by Christy Cabanne (1947)

That’s why you’ll never see me start a presentation with an executive summary. No sir, not even with a table of contents or an agenda slide!

More reading:

Plan and deliver ― your presentation

“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” ― Dale Carnegie

I am aware that many of you may suffer from glossophobia, or fear of public speaking. But honestly, if you have invested enough time in defining your pitch and preparing your presentation there’s really not that much left to worry about.

  • Make sure to avoid unpleasant surprises. Arrive at the venue well in time, get familiar with the room in which you will present, and check the A/V equipment before your start. And when you’re planning a demo, dry-run it a few minutes ― not a few hours! ― in advance.
  • Go on stage with a positive attitude. Don’t get paralyzed by stage fright. You know that you can do it! Take a deep breath before you start and give the audience what they came for.
  • Start with a short silence. Then grab your audience’s attention from the first second onward. Surprise, intrigue or provoke them with an opening statement or poll.
  • As I have explained in many of my older blog posts, when you give a presentation, you need to get your audience engaged. Appeal to their emotions, by telling a personal story. A good practice is to try to make eye contact with a few individuals in the audience and monitor their body language.
  • But, watch your own body language and nonverbal communication too. Your tone of voice, volume of speech, as well as your facial expression, stance and gestures should add to or complement your verbal message.
  • Speak in short sentences and pause often. Pause right before a key point to create a sense of anticipation. Pause right after a key point to allow it to sink in. And, most importantly, don’t forget to breathe.
  • Take care of your speaking time. Ask a time keeper in the audience to give you a five or ten minute warning. If you feel you’re going to run over time, adapt your story and/or your pace, or consider skipping details and less meaningful slides.
  • Concentrate on the message — not the medium. Only present your own pitch and show the slides you prepared yourself. Don’t let the visuals dominate your talk. Never read your slides aloud: most people in the room already know how to read!
  • Be aware where you stand, don’t obscure the screen, and don’t turn your back to the audience. When you like to move around on stage, make sure you use a remote control device (that’s why I always carry a clicker on me, along with a spare battery ― prevention is better than cure.)
  • End your presentation in a powerful way. Your closing is your chance to leave a final impression on the audience. Don’t lose energy. Don’t change style. Don’t stop cold. Summarize your main ideas and key points. And call the people in the room to action.

This ends my series of articles about the 3 P’s. Do you still know what they stand for?  If you want to be a professional public presenter, then take control of your pitch, your preparation and your presentation.


Other articles about planning and delivering your presentation:

Say cheese

A good presentation should start with a memorable opening. And taking the wisdom “a memory may slip away, but a picture is forever” literally, this presenter made sure his appearance would be memorized.

After mounting on stage (at a product launch event), the speaker dug up his smartphone and took a picture of the room in front of him, telling the audience that this was such an important day for him and for his company that he wanted to cherish it for the rest of his life – and be able to look back at this milestone 50 years from today…


So, from now on, you may add the (not so) memorable two words “say cheese” to your list of opening sentences, and – to make the memory collective – share the photo afterwards with you audience.

More articles about opening your presentation:

Can you judge a book by its cover?

Whenever a book has been issued, the first that meets the eye is the cover. The same counts for the title page of any presentation you deliver.

In one of my earlier posts I wrote about grabbing your audience’s attention by intriguing, surprising of provoking them. So let me try to intrigue and challenge you today. Based upon their titles and cover images, what topics would you imagine being addressed by the three presentations below?

ten_years_after_the_big_banghandpicked cherriesmaking_the_volcano

Just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can also not always predict a presentation by its first slide. So here is what I actually introduced through the above visuals:

  • 10 (light) years after the “big bang”. From around 1995 onwards, traditional circuit switched telephony has been taken over by Voice over IP (VoIP) networks. Preparing a presentation to be delivered at the 2005 Voice on the Net conference in Stockholm, I decided to build my story around similarities between the evolution of the universe and the evolution of the internet. (view the full presentation on SlideShare)
  • Why do hand-picked cherries provide no guarantee for a tasty pie? If you’re a loyal reader of this blog, you may have seen that slide before. The subject of the presentation was a management tool for IMS networks. A rather technical topic that I introduced through a story about the challenges of baking a cherry pie… (view this presentation on SlideShare)
  • Making the volcano.  Inspired by a “volcano making kit” gadget I discovered while surfing the web, I once started a presentation skills workshop with a group discussion on “Why is a volcano a good metaphor for preparing and delivering a presentation?” Not an obvious exercise for the students in the room, but certainly a good starter for the seminar.

Begin the beginning

I am sure that many of you have already witnessed a public talk starting with an opening like:

“Good morning everybody. My name is John Doe, and I am VP product management at Acme Industries Inc. First, I would like to thank the organizers for giving me the opportunity to speak here.  I am really honored to deliver a keynote at this event. And I ‘m also delighted that so many of you have shown up to listen to my presentation…”

As most people decide within the first few seconds of a presentation whether a speaker is worth listening to, be sure that John had already lost the ears of his listeners before he had even projected his first slide! (other real life examples of terrible opening lines on Ethan Rotman’s iSpeakEASY blog…)

A better way to grab the audience’s attention is to intrigue, surprise or provoke them. Here are a few examples of openings that I have used in the past:

  • Intrigue: when I opened a lecture about corporate storytelling with a statement about the number of cooking programs on local TV, this was not at all relevant for my talk. But it helped me to puzzle the audience and to create a link to the nouvelle cuisine metaphor I wanted to use in the rest of my presentation (view my slides on SlideShare)


  • Surprise: using the popular “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” format, I once engaged my audience in an interactive quiz. A great way to wake up the room and to playfully introduce the topic of your talk. (view my presentation on SlideShare)


  • Provoke: speaking at a technology conference, I started with Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about the Emperor’s New Clothes to pitch a new and hyped innovation. As the room was filled with supporters of the new technology it was certainly a provoking beginning (read my blog post about telling fairy tales)


As speaking coach Carmen Taran is saying in her book “Better Beginnings”:

“When you fill the first unforgiving 30 seconds with something that has impact, edge, and emotion, you earn the right to be heard.”

So, next time you’re delivering a talk, make sure you grab your audience’s attention from the first second onwards.