Sarah and Simon met at a science conference. Sarah works as a research assistant at the Chair of Migration and Intercultural Communication, Simon is a PhD student. Both meet again two weeks after the conference: Sarah supports Simon in preparing his presentation for the next conference. They discuss the draft and Simon rehearses his presentation. He starts with the sentence “Dear Ladies and Gentlemen…”


The curious audience

As speakers, all attention is focused on us as soon as the moderator announces us by name. Our walk to the stage, the first direct contact with the audience, voice and body language already reveal how we feel: The first impression counts!

It is natural that our inner tension is now at its maximum. Although we are no longer pursued by the infamous saber-toothed tiger, dozens or hundreds of people look at us full of expectation at the same time – an alarm signal for our memory, which we can occupy positively with the appropriate attitude.

Sarah has witnessed many speakers starting to speak as soon as they leave their seats and have not even reached the stage. That is understandable in view of the tension they all want to get rid of as quickly as possible, but it does not appear as confident. In contrast, Sarah consciously takes five seconds of her time: Having arrived on stage, she first establishes eye contact with her audience before starting her presentation.

No matter what the occasion, a successful presentation does not start with sentences like the following:

  • Hello, my name is Simon Beck and I am pleased to be able to present to you today…
  • Hello, my name is Simon Beck and the title of my speech is…
  • First of all, many thanks dear chairmen, many thanks dear…, my thanks also go to Prof. Schmidt for… and to my esteemed colleagues Mrs. Bruckner and Mr. Schwarz for…

The name of the speaker and the topic of the presentation should be known anyhow: They are already printed in the program, are announced again by the moderator and are displayed on the first slide in classic PowerPoint presentations. Of course, most presenters, supervisors, colleagues and people close to us deserve our sincere recognition. But we can still mention them in the course of the presentation. The address “Dear Ladies and Gentlemen…” sounds rather worn-out and does not quite raise the curiosity of the audience.


The first sentence is yours

Sarah therefore recommends Simon to get straight to the point: “The first sentence is yours!” The first part is entirely for the speaker. Apart from all the showmanship, Simon can maximize the attention and interest of his audience. “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression” – this of course applies equally to personal contact and presentation.

So what is the best way for Simon to start his presentation? Sarah provides him with three alternatives:

  • Taking specific reference to a current or historical event
  • A short anecdote from a personal experience
  • Putting the conclusion at the beginning

Like Sarah, Simon is working on a project on migration and intercultural communication. Depending on the particular focus, a direct reference to the current refugee crisis, to the historical migration of peoples in the early Middle Ages, or even to the settlement of the continents during the Paleolithic is suitable as an introduction.

Alternatively, Simon might also briefly share a personal experience. Of course, there has to be a direct connection to the topic of his presentation – as in the case of Sarah, who mentioned in her presentation how she was accepted into a large Mexican family during her internship. Thus she is giving insights into her personal life and forms a bond to her audience.

Even though Simon can already draw a first conclusion from his previous research work, the opening promises suspense. His audience will be attentive to the argumentation. Of course, Simon needs to substantiate his conclusions. Possible shortcomings will certainly appeal to the audience in the discussion.


Versions to start with

Simon now has time to think about specific formulations to start his speech. Sarah provides concrete tasks for him:

  • Formulate an introduction in one sentence that will captivate your audience
  • Ask a concrete, closed question to your audience
  • What conclusion can you already mention in the introduction?

Out of these options, Simon can now choose the most suitable introduction. The introduction and conclusion are followed attentively by the audience. Simon memorizes both sections particularly well. But the middle part of the presentation is completely different: learning by heart would not be helpful here, because the presentations live from the speakers’ dynamics and the spontaneity of the moment.

In his next meeting with Sarah, Simon will learn more about how he can set special highlights in the presentation and communicate interesting knowledge to the audience.

This post is also available in: German

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