15 seconds is all you have – if you are presenting for 15 minutes

15 seconds is all you have – if you are presenting for 15 minutes

QUESTION – how do I present to win?

THOUGHT – hook your audience immediately and hang on

Have you ever sat through a long introduction of a speaker, or worse still a speaker opening his or her speech with a long introduction of themselves? If you have, you might also recall how that negatively impacted on your engagement with the presentation.

The presenters we engage with tend to be those that grab our attention immediately and then hold it. Indeed, recent research suggests that when delivering a 15-minute presentation, the presenter has perhaps 15 seconds to grab our attention. Further, if they fail the grab our attention in those first 15 seconds, the chances of ever doing so are reduced significantly.

My experience suggests that no longer how long the speech, you rarely have more than 30 seconds to grab the attention of your audience, and if you fail to use this 30 seconds wisely, the impact of the presentation and therefore the likelihood it will be successful are significantly reduced. They may listen or read on, but they will not pay you the attention you want and need.

Research has found that we form opinions about the people we meet in the first 30 seconds and that once an opinion is formed it is very hard to change – regardless of the facts suggesting we are wrong. Rationalisation takes over. The same is true of a presentation. By the time you say – ‘i am getting warmed up’. They are thinking about their next meeting having concluded that you may not have a lot to say.

On the other hand, if you can blow them away in the first 30 seconds they will be engaged, you will be embolden, and you will be in a position to win.

I would argue that similar rules apply for written and verbal presentations.

Some verbal presenters try and address this by starting their speech with a joke. This is a common strategy, and one that can work well for people who are good at telling jokes and know how to get a laugh. Other presenters start a presentation by telling a story – a potentially very effective strategy if the story is relevant and engaging. I prefer to grab attention by engaging the audience, perhaps asking them a question or asking for their views on something.

Earlier in this series on presentations, a THOUGHT addressed the power of conversation, as opposed to speech making to hold the attention of an audience. It can also be an effective tool for grabbing attention in the first place.

Clearly asking questions and telling jokes is less effective for written submissions. That said, telling a story is equally feasible in a written presentation as it is in a verbal presentation. Indeed, telling stories is an increasingly common practise for grabbing and indeed, holding attention in a written document. It is very common in books and papers – not just grabbing attention, but also enhancing the credibility of the document.


Understand that there is a lot of noise out there and if you are going to secure the attention of your audience to your presentation, you have to grab that attention in a few seconds.

Tell jokes if you are good at it and have a relevant joke, other wise consider telling an engaging story or getting the audience talking.


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