The Beginning: Foreword or CSI style?

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In her book, The Non-Designers Presentation Book, author Robin Williams argues that a presentation should start with an introduction into the topic, like the preface in a book. [I]t's the foreplay before you start reading. We enjoy that process., she writes.

I happen to disagree with this advice. Actually, I've stopped reading forewords in books. They usually only tell me how important the topic is or how great the author is. I'm not interested in this any more. I already bought the book; just take me to the content already!

It's the same with presentations. As Garr Reynolds and Scott Berkun point out in their respective books, there's evidence that your audience will remember best what happened at the beginning (and the end) of a presentation. So instead of starting with the seemingly inevitable "about me" and agenda slides, they argue, you should dive right in.

Something is wrong if 60 seconds go by and you aren't already into your first point. writes Berkun. Garr Reynolds points to what he refers to as the Honeymoon Period - the very short period at the beginning of a presentation when you have the audience's full attention before it inevitably drops off. They both argue that you should start with an important point, something that you want your audience to remember. The very beginning of a presentation is a good time to present that information.

Reading on, Robin Williams writes:

A film works the same way - even if the film starts before the credits roll or it starts along with the credits, the first few minutes are still an introductory time, a setup, before we jump directly into the film. Think of your presentation in the same way.

This, to me, is a better metaphor - and maybe our points of view aren't that much different after all. Think of a typical episode from a crime tv series: The very first scene usually shows how the crime happened or when the body is found. Then come the credits, and then the work of the investigators starts.

So the idea is to present the "body" (your main message) first, then - if necessary - you can show the agenda and maybe even tell a bit about yourself (if you insist) before you launch into the main part of the presentation where you go into more details and explain how you arrived at your main point.

It works for CSI, you can make it work for your presentation, too.

(Photo: "Water Splash" by Steve Garner, from Flickr)

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