How did you start your last meeting or presentation? Have you thought about it?

What did you say (or do) in the first 60 seconds of the last meeting you hosted?  How did you say it?  Where, were you exactly… stood up, sat down, wandering around?  And whereabouts were you in the room in relation to everyone else?

In this blog, I’m featuring a short article and a new book which might help answer those questions and lead you to consider better ways to start a meeting, presentation or talk.

The article and book have both been getting high attention levels online after I featured them recently, so wanted to showcase them together here. And in the interests of full disclosure – I’m in Kill The Robot and work with its authors Mark Dando and Doug Richardson.

Both are elegantly simple yet powerful because they are so straightforward. (The book and article that is, not so sure about Dando & Richardson!)

The short article is called ‘Stop Beginning Your Speeches with “Good morning and Thank you” and Start With This Instead’ by Deborah Grayson Riegel.

She is writing about what is known as Primacy and Recency – which dates from articles as far back as 1885.

It’s the principle that says people are more likely to remember the first and the last thing that happens.  The first and the last thing that you say or do.  The first and the last thing that they read.  It’s why headlines and conclusions are so important, as all newspaper editors know.  She contrasts the difference between:

“Hello thanks for coming, here’s the agenda” Vs “I will never forget the first time that…”

“Hi there thanks for bearing with me today” Vs “Experts say… but I’ve found…”

After reading the article myself over Christmas, I started a workshop I ran last week with…”I love Mary Poppins for three main reasons…” and finished with “So that’s why I came to be working with you today and happened to have a Mary Poppins DVD in my hand.” (maybe I got a bit carried away with that one)

Of course, this concept isn’t just a novelty, or to be done in isolation just for the sake of it.

The knack is to weave it into the fabric of what you’re saying or as a foundation of the messaging you’re wanting to be memorable, and have it stick in people’s minds.

In my case, Mary Poppins was there as an exemplar of 1) reimagining and reframing the way you look at things in order to become more effective and more enjoyable 2) handling objections and building rapport 3) leadership coaching. Thank you Mary!

You can create multiple starts and finishes, by fragmenting a communication, in a multitude of ways.

Otherwise, you can end up with a great beginning, wonderful ending, but lose everyone in the middle. Mini primacy and recency moments right through a communication are an art form.

Which leads me onto the book Kill The Robot which offers a deeper dive on communication, meetings, presentations, speeches and workshops.

It’s a practical guide to noticing the mindsets that you have and that are driving the way you prepare and run your communications.

Your behaviours will be conditioned by those mindsets. So becoming conscious of them will mean you can adjust the impact a little or a lot.

And, instead of focusing quite so much of your time and efforts on the content…you’re considering the method far more. There are five principles featured in the book:

  1. The Von Restorff Effect (or the isolation/distinctiveness effect) – that helps you stand out from the crowd with outstanding moments
  2. George Miller’s Magic No. 7 – that helps you chunk information to meet the needs of our short-term memory limits
  3. Primacy & Recency – I’ve touched upon that one above already
  4. The Zeigarnik Principle – one of my favourites and fascinating when used in storytelling.  This is all about how interruptions and distractions and pauses can help communication
  5. Cognitive Ease – As opposed to Cognitive Strain. Finding ways to offer information that is easier to process

Gluing all these principles together is a planning tool called MASCOT™ that will have you reconsidering your approach in the lead up to running a meeting, presentation or talk.

And that might be minutes in advance or days/weeks in advance. I won’t go into it all here, as I’m deliberately avoiding rewriting what is already a short, succinct book well worth reading.

So I hope, for the sake of everyone out there who has to sit through one of your presentations or meetings, that you’re experimenting with some memorable ways to run them and capture attention.

If you’re not, or want to improve what you do, then you now know two simple but highly effective places to head towards. Oh, and a third? I’m happy to chat with you, of course.