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8 Ways To Get Your Audience Primed Before Your Presentation Even Begins

When people sit down and wait for your presentation to begin, what do you think is going through their minds? How’d you like to have more control over what they’re thinking about? Following are eight ideas to get your audience thinking about your presentation topic before you even open your mouth.

  1. Music. If intro music is good enough for professional boxers, baseball players and wrestlers, why shouldn’t you have intro music as you take the stage? Even better, put together a playlist that corresponds to the topic of your presentation and have it playing gently in the background as your audience enters the room and gets situated. It’s a nice and subtle way to set the mood and to get people starting to think less about their traffic-filled commute and more about what they’ll be learning.
  2. Trivia. Have you ever gotten to the movie theater early and found yourself competing against your date as to who can answer more of the scrolling movie trivia questions? Setting up a scrolling PowerPoint slideshow with various trivia questions about your topic can get your audience trying to figure out how much they know about your topic before you begin. And it might even pique their curiosity to see if they’ll be able to find out the answers to some of the trivia questions they couldn’t answer.
  3. Photos.  If you have a multi-day presentation, it can be fun to put up a scrolling slide show of pictures from the previous day. People like to see themselves and it can be a good recap of what’s been covered. Click here to see an example of a photo slide show I set to music (using lyrics I created to go with the event). If you’re presenting for only one day (or only one hour), you can put up a scrolling slide show of highlights from past presentations. Unless of course you’re doing a straight lecture and people will just be sitting and listening (or emailing or texting or Facebooking). It might be a good idea to skip this idea.
  4. Promises. Joe Namath promised a Super Bowl victory over Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts. Everyone paid attention to see whether he’d deliver. And he did. What can you promise your participants prior to your presentation? Jane McGonigal promised people would live longer through the information (and activities) she’d share in her      presentation (watch the first 30 seconds of her TED Talk to see the promise, watch the rest to see how she delivers). There’s one catch to this: if you promise, you’d better deliver.
  5. Welcome Them. As the audience files in – whether it’s a large group or a handful of people in a conference room – welcome them. Find out what they’re interested to learn more about. If it’s appropriate, refer to your welcoming small talk during your actual presentation and it’ll help your audience feel like they’re so important to you that they “had you at hello”.
  6. Messy Start. I refer to this strategy from time to time. The short version is that you have your audience answer some questions on various flipcharts around the room before they even take their seats. (Click here to read a more detailed description of the messy start.)
  7. Survey. I’ve seen this work in small meetings and at large ASTD conferences. If you have assumptions or hypotheses about the audience or if you want to find out what kinds of experiences they have with your topic, draw up a few flipcharts and give everyone a dot sticker or a marker as they enter in order to vote on the questions you’ve posted. Some examples could include:
  • Which of the following best describes the amount of experience you have with this topic (I’m brand new; 1-2 years; 3-5 years; 6-10 years; I was around when this topic was born)
  • Which of the following best describes what you hope to take away from this session (Soft skills, hard skills, job aids, networking/contact info)
  1. Warm-up Work. As your audience files in and takes their seats, have a crossword puzzle or a word find with vocabulary and concepts you’ll be covering in your presentation waiting for them. It’ll be more fun for them than sitting in awkward silence, waiting for you to wait for the late-coming stragglers to arrive. You can even offer a prize for the first person to complete it – something glitzy like a $5 Starbucks card or something even more glamorous (and free) like a Certificate of Word Find Completion that they can take home, pin up in their cubicle and by which      they can remember your presentation.

Depending on the size of your audience and the amount of time you have to deliver your presentation, some of these ideas may work better than others. Do you have a specific strategy to get your audience thinking about your topic before you take the stage? Drop a line in the comments section.

Know of someone else who’d like to get their audience primed and ready to go before a presentation? Pass this along!

As for you, if you want access to a steady stream of articles to help improve your presentation skills then you should probably follow this blog.

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