Start with fire

When selling fire extinguishers, start with fire, advises an old adage. Yet I often see charismatic leaders who the minute they have to present morph into boring ole’ Clark Kent instead of Superman!

One way to channel Superman mode when presenting is to start strong. Why is this so important? Your audience is tough on bad starts: Sixty six percent of people said that they are unwilling to give someone who made a bad first impression a second chance, according to a recent Roy Morgan survey.  You get one shot at it. So start with fire, not kryptonite. There I blended both metaphors!

When I work with clients helping them rock their presentations I often suggest some of these starts:

  • Ask a question that ties in and is relevant to the topic that follows. At a recent conference a speaker opened with ‘What stops us from achieving our full potential?’ This question captured the audience, who were all eager to hear what followed.
  • A story start – my favourite. Composer Benjamin Zander does this brilliantly in his TED Talk about why classical music matters. There’s a trick to the best story starts, and it’s really simple: Never start with window dressing like ‘Before I start I want to share a story…’ Aargh! That robs the story of its power. Remember, you are starting with fire! Plunge into the story. Once you have told it, tie it into the point you are making.
  • Use a stat or a data point. For example ‘In our lifetime one in three people will suffer from anxiety attacks’. It is the discipline of using one piece of data that is big enough for your message to hang off. Don’t use too many facts or data at the start as that can leave your audience reeling.

Start with fire. Engage and inspire your audience. Hook them in and have them leaning in for more.

What are some of your strategies for starting strong? Please share. I love hearing from you.

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  • Sundar Rajamanickam

    I once went into a conference room, bouncing and kicking a ball. Then passed it to the audience to kick/pass it to their colleagues and this got the entire audience engaged and excited in under 30 seconds. After this, when I went to my core topic of team work, keep work exciting and stake holder management, it was easy for the audience to connect and understand immediately to the ball game. Truly, starting with a fire helps douse fiery minds and get them to be cool and focus. 🙂

  • David Corduff

    Hi Yamini,
    I recently presented to a Chamber of Commerce on the subject of mental healthy workplaces. My ‘starting with fire’ was a question using a stat…’our suicide rate exceeds the national road toll’. It worked and I fully endorse your comments regarding opening with something that captures the audience immediately. David

    • Yamini

      David what a powerful way to start. Thank you so much for sharing and for the inspiring work you do in this space.
      Best wishes

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