The first fifteen seconds of a presentation: why they are important and how to make the most of them.
Neuroscientists who study what we call "first impressions" say that in many contexts – not just in presentations – we tend to judge the people we meet rather quickly.
Take students, for example. There are studies which show that students get an impression about their teachers within the first two seconds of meeting them for the first time. Two seconds! Not only that, but that impression lasts the entire year!
During presentations we are a bit luckier – the audience gives us a little more time before they get an impression about us, but not much more. According to some studies, we have seven to fifteen seconds to make a good impression.
In his book Five Stars, Carmine Gallo says that according to Geoff Ralston – Partner of Y Combinator, one who knows a thing or two about pitching – investors normally give you no more than five seconds to be able to catch their attention, otherwise you lose them. And according to Ralston, the best way to quickly capture the audience’s attention is to tell a story. Particularly, he suggests that you tell the story about why what you do matters. That’s the story you have to tell.
Whether we like it or not, that's how our brain works. Even if we don't want to admit it (not even to ourselves), we often give rushed judgments about the people we meet. We decide within the first few seconds of meeting somebody whether we like that person or not. During presentations, we decide within the first few seconds whether or not we want to listen to the presenter.
Therefore, here’s my advice: in your next presentation, deliver your key message – what the audience must absolutely remember – in the first fifteen seconds. Don’t wait several minutes before explaining what you want to talk about and why it’s important for the audience. If you were to summarise your idea in one sentence, what would that be? Communicate it in the first fifteen seconds.