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Powerful Beginnings and Endings

Memory research tells us that the material that is most easily remembered and has the most impact are the beginnings and endings. Therefore, presenters that aspire to achieve high proficiency should pay particular attention to the development and the delivery of their introductions and conclusions.

Accomplished presenters may not know these "laws" by name, but they instinctively structure their messages to utilize the law of primacy and the law of recency. These "laws" prove the audience is most likely to remember what they hear first (primacy) and what they hear last (recency). That's why so many veteran presenters insist: Open strong, close strong.

Twenty-five percent of the impact of any presentation is a powerful beginning and ending. We live in a world of instant messaging, fast food, microwave meals, and 30-second sound bites; your audience members are accustomed to a fast start. Therefore, you have no more than 90 seconds to get their attention. If you don't get it then, you can still get it, but it will take a great deal of work and effort on your part.

Some seasoned presenters suggest listeners begin forming their opinions of the speaker even faster. Roger Ailes, author of You Are the Message, says, "Research shows that we start to make up our minds about other people within seven seconds of first meeting them."

This may seem like an unusually short time in which to form an opinion, so David puts it to the test. In his presentations, he asks participants to pair up, with one person serving as active observer. Then he tells them he wants them to merely look at the other person until David says to stop. At the end of seven seconds, he picks several observers and asks: "What opinions can you draw from what you saw?" It is amazing how much some people say they perceived. Comments range from, "He looks intense, knowledgeable, and scholarly," to, "She looks like a kind, thoughtful, caring person." All of these insights and opinions were formed in only seven short seconds. This exercise illustrates the power of the first impression.

Chris Clark-Epstein, author and presenter, knows the importance of hooking your audience and demonstrating your competency as early as possible in the session. She says: "I am very, very cognizant of what I say first. I am a fairly extemporaneous speaker. However, I am very disciplined about my opening. The opening must be absolutely tailored to that group of people based on the research I have done on the audience. You could say that I am pathological about what that opening is about."

Brad: Memory expert Bob Gray is one of the most novel and unique presenters I have ever seen. Bob starts his presentation by demonstrating his ability to speak backwards and write upside down, backwards, and inverted with both his hands and feet while blindfolded. Bob then asks three volunteers from the audience to select the name of any country. Bob then lists the capital, population, and square miles of each country, which are then verified by another volunteer. Lastly, he asks for two volunteers to state the date, month, and year of their birthday, provided they know what day of the week on which they were born. Bob then tells them the day of the week and they verify his answers. Bob then challenges the audience by telling them that he doesn't have a photographic memory, but rather a trained memory, and offers to teach them his memory techniques. Now, did his powerful beginning get the audience's full attention? You bet.

David: Mark Brown, a Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking says, "You must have your opening (one to four minutes) down cold. Have it so firmly rehearsed you could say it in your sleep." Why? Because as you take the stage you must take charge. And you can't take charge if you are unsure of your material.

Have you ever heard a speaker start slowlyand then stay slow? It is agonizing. On the other hand, have you ever heard a speaker open briskly and powerfully with a compelling statement that just makes you want to hear more? These are the speakers we perk up to hear. Here is an example of a compelling 30-second opening from a speech by Frank Morris:

"At this very minute around the world, parents are anticipating their child's second birthdayand with it comes the onset of the 'terrible two's'that special moment in which their precious little toddler becomes a diabolical demon of destruction. Now, you may laugh, but ladies and gentlemen, young and old, I suggest to you that the terrible two's are not restricted just to children"

At this point, Frank has set the stage with his pace, rhythm, alliteration, and added an element of intrigue. The listener wants to know, "What does he mean by that?" That is a lot to accomplish in his first 61 words.

It is also true that 25 percent of the impact of any presentation is a powerful ending. Paradoxically, if you start with the end in mind, you will be much more focused when you start working on the body of your presentation or the beginning. Having a well-defined ending, focus, and a central theme for your presentation will make it easier to develop, easier to organize, and easier for the participants to follow and remember.

You may choose to end your presentation with a review of the materials covered, a terrific quotation, a story, or an anecdote. Because impactful beginnings and endings are so important, this topic will be explored further in Strategy 4 of this resource.

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