For the past couple of days, I’ve been reading about the power of first impressions. Many researchers have studied it in many different contexts. Here’s what I find so interesting. While the details of the studies differ, the findings are nearly always the same.

Let’s take a look at what science says about first impressions along with how that should affect our presentations. Spoiler alert: those first 90 seconds are crucial.

What Science Says About First Impressions

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” It’s common knowledge that first impressions are important. Here’s what science has proven over and over again. We form first impressions at astonishing speeds. We can make first impressions without much conscious thought. And, we tend to view our first impressions as true even when presented with facts that disprove them. One study even found that we form impressions of strangers by looking at a photograph of them, and those impressions are likely to stay the same when we meet them in person.

No matter what research you read about first impressions, you are likely to find a conclusion along these lines. That means that the first impressions we make as speakers are incredibly important.

How This Affects Our Presentations

Given what we know about how humans make and maintain first impressions, the opening of your presentation is critical. If those first few moments have a “make-or-break” feel to them, it’s with good reason. You should start your presentation with the most energy and warmth you can muster because it sets the tone for what’s to come.

Author of Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story, Jerry Weissman tells speakers that they have “90 seconds to launch.” Here’s what Weissman says you should include in those crucial first 90 seconds: an opening gambit, your unique selling proposition (USP), your Point B (your end goal), and information on how you’ll navigate to Point B. Let’s break it down a bit more.

An opening gambit is something that captures the audience’s attention in a creative way. After you’ve gotten your foot in the door, you go on to give your company’s or product’s unique selling proposition. Weissman says to think of it as the “elevator” pitch. And he says it should be no more than two sentences long. Here’s an example of an opening gambit and a USP from the founding CEO of Intuit Software, Scott Cook:

“How many of you balance your checkbooks? How many of you like doing it? You’re not alone. Millions of people around the world hate balancing their checkbooks. We at Intuit have developed a simple, easy-to-use, inexpensive new personal finance tool called Quicken that makes balancing checkbooks easy. We’re confident that those millions of people who hate balancing their checkbooks will buy many units of Quicken, making Intuit a company you want to watch.”

After you’ve opened in a creative way and given your USP, it’s time to tell the audience what your end goal is. Weissman calls it Point B because it’s the destination to which you are headed. Finally, he says you should tell the audience how you’ll get them to Point B. Often called a preview, or an overview, it’s simply a verbal map that shows the audience where the presentation is headed.

This sequence of opening strategies should set you up to make a great first impression on your audience. But don’t forget, it’s not just about what you say. It’s about how you say it. Your delivery style is most important during the intro of your presentation. So we suggest memorizing those first 90 seconds. That way, you can look at your audience (and not your notes) while you are forming a positive first impression.

Scientific studies tell us that the impressions we make in the first seconds of our presentations will stick with the audience. If we follow an opening plan like Weissman’s and present with energy and warmth, the impressions we make are likely to be positive ones.

Need some help making those first 90 seconds (and all the seconds that follow) the best they can be? Get in touch with a presentation coach at Ethos3 today.



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