Openings and Closings

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When you hear a joke, what do you remember about it? For me it’s the set-up and the punch line. My poor joke telling skills center around having to fudge the middle because I simply can’t remember it.

How about a story? I remember the beginning and the ending but please don’t quiz me on the specifics in between.

The same goes for presentations. Sometimes we get so bogged down in the data, the details and the intricacies of our information that we lose sight of what the audience remembers the most. It’s not the middle!

That’s why it’s really important to set up your presentation with a strong opening to both draw them in and alert them to the message you want them to leave with. It’s equally important to close by clearly reiterating the main message you opened with and by “tying it up in a bow” that brings your presentation full circle.

For that reason, I like to open presentations with some sort of story or “attention grabber” to pull them right into the world of my presentation. The conclusion of this anecdote, etc. is my main message for the presentation: the thing I most want them to believe by the time I finish. I call this my “point of view.

Then, in the body of the presentation, I include all the good stuff I have prepared to convince my audience to adopt my point of view. That is, relevant main and sub-points and supporting information such as data and other attention grabbers. Unfortunately I can’t count on my audience remembering all of my points and data, and I often can’t prevent them from texting or tweeting while I talk.

So in my conclusion, I link the main points from the body of my presentation to my point of view, reiterating it one last time to ensure they will remember it when they leave the presentation. Then, I end on a note that harkens back to my opening attention grabber. Maybe I take it one step further. Maybe I make a humorous allusion to it. However I do it, by reminding them of the opening story, etc., I am giving my presentation closure – making it more integrated. I am also reminding them of what first alerted them to my point of view. If they’ve been paying attention during my presentation, that message will now be more meaningful to them. Worse case scenario, they will simply hear the message again during my conclusion. Either way, my closing attention grabber eases them out of the world of my presentation and back into their real lives.

Tom Vanderbilt, in a New York Times article, quoted the Italian scholar, Guiliana Adamo who spoke about this subject as it relates to literature.

“If the narrative strategies of the beginning assure the reader’s passage from the real world to the fictional one, the closing strategies prepare the reader’s transition from the novelistic universe to daily life.”

Openings and closings function similarly in our presentations. But they additionally ensure that our audience members pocket our point of view while they’re in the land of our presentation and take it out, ready for use, when they return to real life.

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