I watch attorneys on Law and Order, and they’re always so articulate and prepared and captivating. Then I watch the show “Snapped” on television (the one my husband worries about because it’s all about wives who kill their husbands) and the attorneys aren’t quite as snappy. Their opening statements begin with something like “I’m going to tell you today why this woman is only guilty of protecting herself in a, well, a, I’d call it a tough situation.” Wow. That woman might as well call the guard and leave for jail right now. What an opening statement!
In her book Winning Every Time, attorney Lis Wiehl says that “in court, as in real life, the opening statement is the most powerful few minutes of an attorney’s presentation. From research, we know that the majority of jurors reach a judgment of the case by the end of the opening statement.”
First of all, a moment for all defendants to be terrified. Secondly, think about the horrendous presentations (whether five minutes or five hours) that start with “I’d like to first review my objectives for this sales presentation.” Shoot me. Now. As my colleague and presentation expert Robert King says, “too many presentations are based upon the ‘tell them you’re going to be boring, be boring, then tell them how you were just boring’ model.”
If you want to influence anybody, you must first take on the immense competition for that person’s attention. In today’s world a presenter has to snap people out of a thousand tasks that have not been completed, one hundred e-mails on a blackberry, and one participant watching the movie “Die Hard” on his IPhone. Not to speak of the fact that we process information at 550 words per minute while we speak at the rate of 150 words per minute. Grabbing someone’s attention isn’t easy, but if you want to sell your idea you’ve got to find a unique way to do it. Here are some of my suggestions. You can start with:
Lis Wiehl also says that the sheer volume of information thrown our way makes quick decision-making a necessity. So every audience is finding a reason to pick up their mental remote and turn you off, or at least switch to HGTV where they can actually learn something useful. Your first minute has to tell them why they should keep the channel on you.
In addition to a clever attention-getter, you have to project confidence, energy, and a firm belief in the importance and virtue of what you’re getting ready to say. As you practice your next presentation, ask yourself: Would I listen to this presentation if I had the option of checking for an important message from my boss or colleague or child? If you can’t answer “yes” to that question, then keep practicing. And remember, a weak opening could mean a trip to the presentation electric chair, because the jury decided in the first few minutes to send you there!