I was recently asked:

What was the greatest return on your investment of time?

Making presentations at construction industry meetings was by far the best use of my time. Early in my career I realized, I would be presenting to a skeptical audience. I would need to capture their attention right away. If you make presentations to business men and women, you will have to capture their attention also.

How do you start a presentation? You have 90 seconds to connect with an audience. During those 90 seconds the audience is asking: What’s in this for me (WITFM)? So, how can you do it? Let me share ideas and how I used each one.

  • Ask an attention grabbing question.
  • Give an attention grabbling statistic or statement.
  • Give a roadmap of the presentation. “The three things you need to know about _____ are…”
  • Tell a story
  • Self-deprecating humor (Be very careful)
Years ago, after Enron and Worldcom scandals the federal government began investigating contractors. I wrote articles, including: At the risk of sounding false about what every contractor needed to know in the post Enron Era. The articles led to me speaking all over the country, including the presentation in the visual.

I gave more thought to the opening of the presentation than any other part. My challenge in the WIIFM question was that the contractors attending all believed they were honest and all believed they would never get in trouble. I ultimately decided on the grabbing series of questions.

Attention Grabbing Questions:

Since the contractors all believed they would never get in trouble, I wanted to start with something I knew they believed was important and then compare it to what I would share with them in the presentation. I did it this way:

  1. How many of you do not have a safety program in your company? (No hands)
  2. How many of you do not do safety training? (No hands)
  3. How many of you do not have a person in your company responsible for safety? (No hands)
Then I paused for a moment and asked:
  1. How many of you do not have an ethics program in your company? (Every hand)
  2. How many of you do not do ethics training? (Every hand)
  3. How many of you do not have someone responsible for your company’s ethics? (Every Hand)

For the next 50 minutes I want to share with you why ethics is as important to the survival of your company as safety is the survival of your employees.

A few years later I wrote about how I opened the presentations: Hear Me Now.

Startling Statistic or Statement:

I could have started the presentation with a startling statistic or statement:

The federal government is currently investigating 43 different contractors in 17 different states. Over the last 6 years 40 contractors have been convicted. You may know some of those contractors, and I am confident many believed they had done nothing wrong. Over the next 50 minutes, I want to share ideas with you that will help you avoid being investigated for doing anything wrong.

Roadmap of the Presentation:

Today I will be sharing with you three main points:

  1. What the going on with the government investigations of contractors.
  2. What you need to know.
  3. What you need to do.

I could have told a story about a contractor who, in 1987 was wrongly accused of a crime who sat through an eight month trial, put on no evidence and was acquitted by the jury in 10 hours. Every contractor in the audience would have been familiar with the story. If you are not, here is the New York Times story after the verdict: DONOVAN CLEARED OF FRAUD CHARGES BY JURY IN BRONX.

Self Deprecating Humor:

I never did consider using self-deprecating humor to open this presentation. I did use it to open other presentations by telling a true story.  I told the story in this blog post: How to attract clients without coming across as a salesman. As you will see, while we were flying to resolve a contract dispute, one of my first contractor client’s told me that he hated all lawyers. I did know how to respond. After a minute, he said: But of all the lawyers I hate, I hate you the least. I frequently told that story and said:

I know contractors do not like lawyers, so if at the end of this presentation, if you hate me the least of all the lawyers you know, then I will know I provided you with something valuable.

Just wondering: How do plan on opening your next presentation? Will it answer the What’s in it for me question?