For several years I spoke at the annual Associated General Contractors Highway and Utility Contractors Annual Issues Meeting. Several contractors  told me the group liked having me as a speaker because my presentations were different than other lawyers. That was a compliment, but it also made me think about what contractors, and other businessmen and women do not like about  presentations by lawyers.

I know many lawyers who stand behind the podium on a stage. If possible, I stood on the floor with nothing blocking me from the audience.I know lawyers who put too many words and bullet points on slides. The audience strains to read what is on the slides and does not pay attention to the speaker.

In this post, I want to focus on how to start a presentation. I know lawyers who open an industry presentation with a joke. I confess, I have never laughed at a joke told by a lawyer beginning a presentation. I know other lawyers who open an industry presentation by giving a history of the legal topic they are discussing. The audience looks bored listening to the history lesson.

How should you open a presentation? Keep this idea in mind: Your audience is deciding what is in it for them in your presentation. In your opening, you must answer the why question. Why is what you are about to tell them important? When I spoke to contractors, I got them interested by:

  • Asking a question
  • Telling a story
  • Giving them a startling statistic

As many of you know, one of my favorite books on presentations is Give Your Speech, Change the World: How To Move Your Audience to Actionby Nick Morgan. In the book, Morgan says:

The best way to start a speech is to get the audience involved from the very top. Get them to do something interesting…

Another way to involve the audience from the start is to report to them about them.

If you have a presentation coming up, I urge you to read the entire book. If you think it would be helpful, share with me how you plan to open the presentation and I will give you feedback.

P.S. When your clients’ industry meets to discuss “issues,” you should be there. Their business issues all have legal implications.