Intrigue people when you present (F!RST framework – part 1i)

Don’t let people’s minds wander – make them wonder! Tweet this

keyboard key saying 'top secret'

Intriguing your audience means in effect you set up some kind of mystery, which makes people look to you to solve it. So they focus sharply on what you’re about to say in your talk. This anticipation has 3 clear benefits:

  • It draws people to your talk in the 1st place.
  • It propels your talk along.
  • It causes your audience to be forward-thinking – which stands you in great stead for your call to action at the end. (More on that last point later in the series.)

(For context, see Meet the F!RST framework)

By answering your audience’s key question (“What’s in it for me?”, as you did in the previous post in this thread), you grab their attention. To grab it even before you speak – or to help keep it during your talk – also use the 8 techniques in this post to whet people’s appetites about what you’ll say:

Let’s look at each of those “intrigue” techniques


Use a tempting titleScroll up to Contents ↑

There are several places you can find bright ideas for titles that draw people to your talk. One is Olivia Mitchell’s great post about titles that get people flocking to your session (also added to by Ken Molay of Webinar Success), which offers ideas like these 6:

Idea Example title
Suggest benefits “How to rivet your audience”
(rather than just “How to present”)
Hint at a story “How an overloaded presenter won through”
Provoke curiosity1 “The #1 way to grab people’s attention”
Add contrast “How to rivet the distracted”
Imply privileged knowledge “Secrets of grabbing audience attention”
Evoke concern “Don’t make the mistakes these presenters did!”

(1In the title of this thread, I used “3×7” because it’s more intriguing than just using “21”.)

Another source of ideas is the classic book Writing for the Web by Crawford Killian. And, like Rhonda Abrams in her great book Winning Presentation in a Day, one tip that Crawford recommends is using both a title and a subtitle, as in these 3 examples that are contentious or evoke concern:

Title Subtitle
“You don’t need to focus attention if…” “Score 80% on our self-test and you’re already there”
“Why most presenters are wrong” “The misguided trend”
“5 sure ways to bore your audience” “Why most presentations fail”

(For more perspective, also see Involve people through the title in the previous post.)


Write an intriguing invite or promoScroll up to Contents ↑

Grab and intrigue your audience before they even decide to come! Tweet this

In the invitation you create for your talk (or in the promotional “blurb” if it’s a webinar or a conference session), grab and intrigue your audience before they even decide to come! If your talk’s for a webinar or conference, you’ll increase traffic to your event and start to keenly focus your audience’s attention. And in a more common business setting, how refreshing it’ll be for your audience to actually want to attend your talk because you’ve intrigued them about what you’ll say!

Here are 5 suggestions for intriguing content you can put in your invitation or promo:

“Every presentation is a stepping-stone
on the path to ultimate success” Tweet this


Show looping slides beforehandScroll up to Contents ↑


Last year I attended a very stimulating workshop on classroom training by Denise Meyerson of Management Consultancy International. One of her points that has really stuck with me is the idea of planting content in the audience’s minds as they walk in, like by putting signs on the floor.

An equivalent for presentations (including webinars) is Patricia Fripp’s great suggestion of using a looping slideshow for people who enter your session a few minutes early. The slides automatically advance from 1 to the next every 20 seconds, say, and loop back to the start when the slideshow finishes. (For more details, see my upcoming post on how to create looping slides.)

Questions really get people thinking

You can use the same type of content on your looping slides as you do in your invite or promo. (On the left, you can see a couple of sample slides from a loop. To see their captions more easily, hold your mouse pointer over them. Notice that both slides use questions – rhetorically or with an answer – because questions really get people thinking, and engaging with you and your content.)


Show your structure in a pictureScroll up to Contents ↑

An audience-oriented agenda appeals to the way they already relate to your topic Tweet this

A great way to get your audience to keenly look forward to what you’ll say is to run through your agenda near the start of your talk – provided you use questions or issues for structure as discussed in the previous post. An audience-oriented agenda will put your listeners at the centre of your talk, and appeals to the way they already relate to your topic, so they’ll sit up and take notice when they see “their” issues throughout your agenda.

An excellent tip on audience-oriented agendas is suggested by Ken Molay of Webinar Success. He proposes that for your agenda slide, you show a photo of 1 or more people with speech or thought bubbles next to them, each containing a likely audience question or issue – as shown on the left. (At the time of writing, Ken also uses that technique as a navigation device on his website, which is an innovation that many web designers would do well to notice!) So, as suggested in Use questions or issues for structure, each section of your talk answers a specific point that’s important to your audience.

Every time you start a section during your talk, show a copy of your agenda slide again, but with the current question highlighted (as shown on the left). That’s a superb way to show that you’re approaching the topic from your audience’s viewpoint, and to make your agenda slide far more engaging than just a stale “laundry list” of topics! (See the example of a stale “laundry list” agenda on the right.)


Enumerate your pointsScroll up to Contents ↑

“Enumerate your points” is just a quick way to write “say how many things you’ll discuss”. The classic place to do that is in your talk’s title (e.g. “3 ways to focus audience attention”), as Rhonda Abrams and Olivia Mitchell recommend. Or, you can use this approach within your talk by saying things like “There are many reasons. Let’s look at the top 4 in turn.”

Enumerating your points gives you 3 more big benefits Tweet this

Either way, as well as intriguing people about what the “3 ways” or “top 4” etc. are, enumerating your points gives you 3 more big benefits:

  • It tells people precisely how much your talk offers.
  • It gives your talk structure – and a definite end, which audiences like!
  • Subtly, it causes your audience to trust you more because (in effect) you promise something which you then deliver. As a result, you’re more likely to persuade people.


Use an acronymScroll up to Contents ↑

Acronyms add more intrigue because your audience will wonder what each letter stands for Tweet this

Acronyms – words whose letters stand for something, like FiRST or Aim – have all the advantages of enumerating your points, and add more intrigue because your audience will wonder what each letter actually stands for. What’s more, as I’ll discuss later in this series, acronyms have a couple of extra benefits related to other parts of the F!RST framework. So acronyms are good in many ways!

There are 3 points to keep in mind with any acronym, though:

  • It should of course be an appropriate word for your audience – with positive or neutral connotations, not negative.
  • Preferably – to make your acronym more intuitive and memorable – all its letters should stand for the same part of speech, like verbs or adjectives (e.g. in goal-setting, SMART consists of adjectives: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound).
  • Ideally – again for memorability – the word itself should relate to your topic (e.g. Aim when discussing focus).


Say you’ll explain laterScroll up to Contents ↑

This technique involves explicitly telling your audience you’re going to delay explaining something. (For instance, the overview says I’ll explain at the end of the series what the “i” in FiRST stands for.) To avoid frustrating people, though, I recommend you do this at most once or twice in your talk.


Show cues before contentScroll up to Contents ↑

This is the first technique I’ve described that’s
implemented solely through slide design.

To avoid being self-centric, it’s best to focus on your audience’s needs before you design or create your slides. So I recommend that only after you use the intrigue techniques in the sections above, you can focus attention using visual cues.
(Also, do see Work out your words (and do it early) for tips on when to do what.)

To intrigue your audience, you can show cues of some kind, which you then gradually resolve by revealing content 1 piece at a time with custom animation. Your audience will use your cues to judge how many pieces you’ll show in all, so this technique works a bit like when you enumerate your points, except this is visual and more subtle. (Even if you say how many things you’ll discuss, also showing cues complements your words.)

Show the pieces in an unpredictable order

I recommend you show the pieces in an unpredictable order – to stop people getting bored, as they might if you showed pieces from left to right (or similar).

Let’s look at 5 cue types, shown here on incomplete slides:

Cue type Incomplete example slide Usage
Shape In the slide on the left, imagine each blue block denotes a piece of content on the slide, such as a labelled photo illustrating an audience benefit. As you talk, they appear 1 at a time when you mention them. How many pieces do you expect will appear in all?
Naturally enough, the answer’s 4 because they’ve been placed at the corners of a square, and being symmetrical and close to the centre of the slide implies only 1 more piece is hidden.
For this type of cue, use a regular shape to arrange the pieces of content on your slide – a triangle if you’ll show 3 pieces; a square for 4; a pentagon for 5; etc.
Line In this type of cue, use even spacing to indicate how many pieces you’ll show. For variety, or to cope with wide pieces, you could also arrange them vertically or diagonally.
In the example shown here, again clearly there’ll be 4 pieces. You can tell that because the 3 pieces shown have left a “slot” for 1 more.
In future posts, I’ll show you how to create slides like these examples – both placing the pieces of content, and hiding them until you mention them.
Frame This is really a variation on the Line type of cue, above. I recommend you use a frame if the pieces of content are so small that they’d look awkward spread across your slide. The frame appears when you show the first piece of content, and acts like a “slide within a slide” to let your audience know how far the line will go. In the example on the left, there’ll be 5 pieces of content in all.
Grid A grid is useful when you have a fairly large number of pieces (typically 6, 8 or 9), but it won’t work for a prime number of pieces (3, 5 or 7). In the example shown here, there’ll be 9 pieces of content in all.
Placeholders Placeholders are frames or other indicators that show your audience where each piece of content will appear. They give you the most flexibility with your slide layout. When you first display the slide, show all the empty placeholders, then fill them in turn as you mention each piece of content.

Having 5 different types of cue lets you create a huge variety of slides designs. So, you can be unpredictable and yet still show cues for upcoming content on your slides – both of which help to keep your audience focused!

If you’d like to see some example slides of what showing cues before content looks like, check out the screenshots here:


What’s next?

In the next post in this series, you’ll find 9 specific tips to avoid overwhelming or distracting your audience, so they stay focused on your talk’s goal.

Before you go, though, I’d also love to hear your views on this post:

  • What other tips for intriguing your audience can you share?
  • Which of the 8 main points above do you already use, or might you use in future?
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2 thoughts on “Intrigue people when you present (F!RST framework – part 1i)

  1. Craig,

    Thank you for bringing my attention to your blog and this post. Your examples make your recommendations so clear. Everyone should practice your methods for Tempting Titles, showing their structure visually and using acronyms.

    What you care about and what I always work with my clients to improve is allowing their creativity and unique perspective to shine through. No one is just like anyone else, and when each person cherishes their individuality, even within various company guidelines or best practices, they can create and deliver a presentation that makes a positive difference to their audiences.

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