“I want to start by telling you a little bit about us.”

How often have you heard someone begin a presentation like that?

It’s almost the standard in business meetings, isn’t it? Sometimes I feel like I’m waging a one-woman war to stop the self-ing. Well, okay, it’s at least a two-woman war. I know my Wordsmith friend Lynne Franklin is right there with me.

Here’s why you should be too.

At a day-long meeting last week, the late-afternoon speaker began: “I want to start by telling you a little bit about us.”

What was projected on the screen behind him? Of course. The slide titled “About Us.”

Picture this now. We’ve been in the meeting room since 8am listening to one speaker after another. Some we really care about, some not so much. We’ve made a valiant effort to pay attention to all of them.

And this guy we don’t know comes up and offers to tell us a little bit about himself. Goody goody.

I wanted to jump up and ask, “Why should we care?”

That’s the key question you should ask as you plan a presentation. Why should they care about what you’re going to say? Why should they care about you?

If you’re smart, you’ll make the answers to those questions crystal clear before you launch into your background, your expertise, or your recommendations.

You know what I tell my clients. “Nobody cares who you are or what you do…until you give them a reason to care.”

So giving them a reason to care is your first order of business. And you need to do it fast. Some experts insist we have about 60 seconds to grab attention at the top of a talk. Some say it’s even less than that!

It’s true, quick-attention-getting can be a big challenge in some corporate settings. Your audience may not care much about you or what you do. Could be, they’re required to be in the room and they’re just putting up with you. (In Learning & Development, these people are known as “prisoners.”)

Even so, you ought to make the effort to capture and keep their attention, no matter who’s in your audience. A few tips for doing just that:

  • First and foremost, make it about them instead of you. Every individual in your audience is more interested in their own problems, preferences and goals than in yours. Play to that interest.
  • Start with a story. The dry recitation of data—or your own resume—is a guaranteed turn-off. Instead, take the information you need to convey and weave it into a narrative.

Use a story to illustrate why they need to hear your message. Or one that makes your big point. Research shows we’re more likely to understand and remember what we learn in the form of a story.

  • Surprise them. If what we experience doesn’t match what we expected, we notice. And we remember. So breaking out of predictable presentation patterns is a smart move. Doing things a little differently will wake up your audience.

Startling news, a little-known fact or an eye-opening statistic could be just the way to have your audience leaning in, eager to hear more.

  • Ask ‘em a question. Could be a rhetorical question, one that gets people thinking but doesn’t require an answer.

Or you might do the show-of-hands thing: “How many of us …” Be aware though, that we’ve heard that one before. And before that. And before that. It feels well-worn and some people won’t play along. That can be awkward for a speaker.

  • Say it silently. It’s a common mistake in corporate conference rooms. The speaker heads for the front of the room already yakking and sort of slides into their presentation.

Instead, take your place in front of your audience. Ground yourself: sense your feet on the floor and take up some space. Pause for a moment, making eye contact with your listeners (not your notes or your laptop).

Now you have their attention and you can begin.

Oh, and that “little bit about you” that you skipped? You’ll weave your expertise, your credentials and your successes into your talk, instead of one big block of blahblah at the beginning.

You’ll get the credibility you were hoping for. And your audience will like you a whole lot better.

You might have a surefire way to get attention—or a story about a speaker who didn’t. Post a comment below to share it with us.