A fast car driving late at night through downtown LA – goes against the traffic lights and nearly crashes into a truck. A wounded man gets out of the car and struggles up to his way into the office.
An unconscious man is floating in the sea. Gets picked up by an Italian fishing boat, operated on to remove bullets and a strange electronic device. He wakes up, is confused fights and then collapse again. Wakes up, doesn’t know his own name. Stays on board boat for a week, still doesn’t know who he is but is speaking different languages, doing skilled things somehow without knowing how he is doing them. He is deeply puzzled. He catches a train to Switzerland, fights two policemen, enters a bank and then gets some clues from a safety deposit box. He uses the name he finds on a passport.
A young woman is being chased for her life in the woods.
A different woman wakes up with a start from a nightmare, she wanders around the house – you just get her name at 4.08 minutes “Lund” when she answers the phone
Lund arrives at the murder scene and is left alone to discover it. She’s in a very spooky basement where the lights have gone out. Finally, she realizes it’s a practical joke at 6:37.
Expert linguist, Louise Banks, is finding out how to speak to the aliens who have just arrived on one of the 12 “objects” around the world. She needs to find out what they want from us. Quickly.
It looks like a conventional start. But the format is reversed. You only really find out what is happening a lot later.
That’s a long introduction to a blog. I haven’t explained what I’m doing yet.
But neither did these films.
Double indemnity (1944)
Bourne identity (2002)
The Killing (2011)
You have to wait possibly five, seven, or 15 minutes in, or almost the whole film, before you get some explanation of what is happening.
At the weekends, we watch films that often use a mystery/suspense opening.
We seem to love them. All these films/box sets had massive box office receipts.
But hours later, we go to work and put a different head on.
A work head.
So, when we do a presentation we forget all these techniques of grabbing people’s attention.
We think we have to do some combination of the following:
- Give a three/five slide introduction to your company before you get onto the meat of your presentation
- Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them."
- Tell them everything you know in chronological order about the subject – and it ends up being two hours (I kid you not – that is a recent conversation I’ve had with a presenter)
And we wonder why we don’t grab the audience!
A while back, I was working with an executive in a big organisation and I tentatively suggested: “Your opening could be a little more dynamic. Have you thought about starting with a story?”
He replied: “I can’t possibly do that, no one starts with a story, it’s not the right thing. You have to start with the company history slides. I don’t want to do anything new”.
So, this blog is my slow reply to him.
This is not new. Hollywood has been doing it for at least 87 years. But as human beings we’ve been telling stories for well over 20,000 years. We humans are hard wired for stories. Stories grab us. We remember stories far longer than we remember statistics. (Chip and Dan Heath’s study showed that 6% people remember stats and 67% people remember stories)
Let’s just take one example. Simon Sinek’s presentation.
He starts with a story without explanation. The audience might be wondering: “Why is he telling us this story? Where is he going with this?”
The opening story drives his presentation – it’s a fundamental part of the whole presentation. In fact, he tells five stories by the end of 12-minute presentation.. My guess is that Simon is always on the look out for stories he can use in his presentations. Presentations are often far too abstract, so stories make ideas more concrete. They help the audience get what you are talking about
So if we want the audience to be engaged we can learn a lot from what we watch at the weekend. As Simon shows you don’t have to have a budget for car chases or explosions. But you need the courage to try something different. The rewards could be far better audience connection and engagement.