Eight Steps to a Powerful Opening

By Heather Baldwin

It could be argued that sales presentations are only as strong as their openings. Start with a powerful, convincing, attention-grabbing opener and you’ll win the hearts and minds of audience members and make them more receptive to your message and more likely to remember it. Flub the opener and the audience will tune you out and write you off.

“Whatever effect you wish to have on your audience, it begins here,” says Deborah Dumaine, president of Lexington, Massachusetts-based Better Communications (www.bettercom.com) and author of Write to the Top: Writing for Corporate Success (Random House, 2004). “You want to take control of the room from the beginning of your presentation, before you even project your first slide.” To do so, Dumaine says presenters include the following elements, in order, in their opening.

1. Grab attendees attention. Open your presentation by grabbing audience member’s attention in a way that is directly related to your topic. Some successful techniques for engaging audience members and motivating them to listen include a rhetorical question – If I could cut by 90% the amount of time your sales reps spend doing administrative tasks, what would that mean for you?; a real question – How much time do your reps spend on administrative tasks today?; a quote; an anecdote or story that illustrates the value of what you’re about to say; a startling statistic – $10 million dollars are lost every year on…; or a demonstration.

2. Deliver the bottom line. Deliver your solution and conclusion in one or two sentences. Also include a so-what fact that tells audience members why it’s important for them to take action.

3. State your purpose. Tell audience members what you hope to achieve with the presentation. “Clearly stating your specific goals early will keep audience members focused and expectant,” says Dumaine.

4. Explain what’s in it for the audience members. From the start of any presentation, audience members are wondering what’s going to be in it for them. The ‘it’ might be as obvious: This service will cut by 90% the amount of time your sales reps spend doing administrative tasks, giving them an extra 10 hours a week to sell. Or it may be something less measurable, such as the knowledge to forecast significant trends.

5. Provide your credentials. Briefly mention your experience, research you’ve done or special success related to your topic, without bragging, to show audience members why they should listen to you and trust what you say.

6. Provide an agenda. On a slide or flip chart, briefly outline the body of your presentation. “Help the audience follow you by stating how many points you will cover,” says Dumaine.

7. Check your timing. Tell your audience how long the presentation will last and when breaks, if any, are scheduled. If possible, include specific times on your agenda slide. That way audience members will free their minds to listen to you rather than wonder when they can return phone calls or when the presentation will end.

8. Make transitions smoothly. Plan your transition from the opening to the main part of your presentation. One supply-chain management software rep transitioned by saying: Let’s begin with your biggest inventory challenge – keeping inventory low while maintaining high levels of customer service – in short, inventory exposure. In the main body of your presentation, make sure you keep the promises you made in the opening.