What film and TV can teach us about seizing audience attention.
There are only three possible types of reactions to the first few minutes of your presentation.
Positive is obviously good (duh).
Neutral is also fine as long as you move quickly to your ‘A’ material.
But if you open and create a Negative initial reaction, you will be climbing a mountain to regain that audience. Which is not to say it can’t be done, but it’s rare. Most of those that I have seen started bad … and went downhill from there.
You need to put a lot of work into the opening of your presentation.
In fact I’d say the only place you would put more work is the end of your presentation.
So what am I suggesting you do …. ? Well I’m certainly not talking about this .
How not to open your next presentation
But I am suggesting you think long and hard about what you give to your audience from the moment you step up to the stage … because time is precious and people are pressed for time and multi-tasking. Once upon a time, if you had an audience, in a room, you had their attention. Sadly that is not the case today. mobile phones, PDAs, iPads … you have competition within that very room for your audience’s attention. Learn more about the seismic impact Twitter is having on live presentations by reading Cliff Atkinson’s book on Twitter and presentations called The Back Channel
Of course Hollywood and Madison Avenue don’t need to learn this lesson, they both wrote the book on grabbing attention. Scriptwriters in movies today, know the world is a far different place than that of our grandparents .. or even parents.
One feature of our modern connected life is shortened attention spans. If you want to write a modern blockbuster movie, you can’t go wrong with a highly charged opening scene. It’s pretty uncommon today to see a movie taking it’s time to build to a climax.
In Hitchcock’s classic ‘Psycho’, he took about 30 minutes before he even showed us the knife. Compare that with Wes Craven’s Scream, where Drew Barrymore is sliced and diced in the first 3.2 nanoseconds of the film.
Over on the small screen, TV ads operate in an ruthless and relentless 30 second or 60 second discipline. They have to grab your attention, communicate a message and get you to do something, all in a very short amount of time, so there are no wasted seconds in a TVC. The lesson for us as presenters is don’t waste any time when you step up to the lectern, you are ‘on’ from the second you are introduced.
There are also many successful TV shows that include great openings. And by that I don’t mean the opening title sequence, but rather a few minutes of the story prior to the credits that hooks you in to the story and makes you want to watch the rest of the show … you see where I’m going with this … right ? We should build a similar sense of anticipation in our live presentations.
One show that nailed both Titles and Opening was ‘Six Feet Under’.
Each show opened with the groundbreaking title sequence, followed immediately by a short clip of about 60 seconds that showed the death of someone, whose body ends up at the family owned funeral parlour which formed the basis for the aptly named show.
Check out the clip below. It grabs your attention, gets you intrigued you and makes you want to know what is coming next.
Here is one of the opening deaths
But the show that is most relevant to this discussion is the opening sequence of another multi-Emmy Award winning series “The West Wing”.
Each episode followed the same three part sequence;
- A jump-cut 30 second recap of various plot lines from previous weeks.
- A three to four minute opening sequence which would set the scene for a major story line in the current episode.
- Then the triumphant opening credits rolled.
This simple but effective structure works on a number of different levels:
- Viewers are reminded of previous episodes and continuing stories
Tell em what you told em
- The sequence establishes one part of the storyline threads for that night’s episode Tell em what your gonna tell em
- The sequence always hit an emotional high point of some kind, either drama, comedy or suspense. Provide a reason to keep watching and listening
- It established and codified a regular pattern for the entire series so you knew what to expect Familiar structure is comforting and easy to absorb
Each of the above principles is just as important for the presentation process. In essence,these are the principles of good story telling, not unique to film, tv or presentations, but a highly important aspect of effective communication.
Besides, how can you not love the opening titles of a show where the composer rejoices in the real, actual, no kidding, name of W. G. Snuffy Waldron ! Sit back and enjoy.
West Wing | Series 2 | Episode 19 | Bad Moon Rising (4:40)
- The opening of your presentation sets the scene and tells your audience a lot about who you are and how you intend to treat them for the next precious hour of their life. Don’t treat it lightly.
- You only get one shot at a first impression.
- Use your opening to create at least one of the following; drama, interest, suspense, intrigue, laughs … In short, get the audience emotionally involved in where you will be taking them during your time with them.
- Look for inspiration from talented storytellers in the fields of film, TV and literature.
- Finally, rehearse, rehearse ….. and rehearse some more. Here’s a great quote from a renowned expert on the topic.
“If I am to speak 10 minutes, I need a week for preparation. If I am to speak 15 minutes, three days. If a half hour, two days. If an hour, I am ready now.” – Woodrow Wilson.
And just to further rub their salty creative juices into the wounds of us mere creative mortals DK also created the titles for Dexter. Speaking as a designer, I find them a depressingly talented bunch of people !