Don’t bury the lead

There’s this memorable bit in James L Brooks’ wonderful media movie Broadcast News where brilliant but prickly TV reporter Aaron tells gifted but neurotic producer Jane why she shouldn’t run off with his charismatic but unethical rival Tom.

‘He personifies everything you’ve been fighting against’, he pleads. ‘And I’m in love with you. How do you like that – I buried the lead!’

Think like a journalist

Burying the lead – relegating your most important message to a subsidiary position – is something no self-respecting journalist would ever do. Newspaper articles are invariably written with facts and comment in descending order of importance so that when the sub-editors have to trim a 500-word piece in half to fit the available space, they can simply cut from the bottom.

This is an excellent principle which can and should be applied to all forms of communication, including presentations.

When you’re giving a presentation, the only time you have the attention of almost everyone in the audience is when you say your first few words. If those words have interest, relevance and impact, there is a chance that those people will decide to listen to you rather than doodle, daydream or catch up on emails.

No second chances

But if you open your presentation with ‘wallpaper’ like name, credentials, disclosures, history and background, and then slowly build up to your Very Important Point, the fall-off in attention is likely to be steep, and may be irrecoverable. As cowboy and vaudeville performer Will Rogers famously said: ‘You never get a second chance to make a good first impression’.

So next time you’re preparing a presentation and planning to leave the funny but insightful story, the awesome graphic or the momentous conclusion until the end, do yourself and your audience a favour – and make it your standout opening.