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Openings and Closings

How to get attention and be remembered.

By
Lisa B. Marshall,

This past Saturday afternoon, when I was supposed to be finalizing Monday's presentation for the NIH, my husband, Armando, said, "Honey, I'm thinking about going to a movie." Without hesitation my inner procrastinator replied, "OK, let's go." Unfortunately, when we arrived at the theater we couldn't agree on a movie, so he got a ticket for Watchmen and I got one for Slumdog Millionaire.

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Movies Can Help You Make Better Presentations

If you've seen this Oscar-winning movie or even just the trailer, you know it starts with a young man sitting in the hot seat and the screen reads, "Jamal Malik is one question away from winning 20 million rupees. How did he do it? A) He cheated, B) He's lucky, C) He's a genius, D) It is written.” Immediately, I thought to myself, “Wow, what a great attention getter. I wonder if they'll return to this at the end.” Yes, I'm that much of a communication geek that I'm actually thinking about rhetorical devices: the attention getter and the residual message, which I’ll explain in a minute.

I love movies—not just because they're an enjoyable pastime, but also because I learn from them. (OK, I'll admit it: I often steal—well, use—ideas from movies for my own presentations.)

How Directors Do It

Movie directors know that all good stories begin by gaining attention and end by showing something concise and memorable. At the start of a movie, they say or show you something interesting to draw you in and to get you thinking about the overall theme of the movie. At the end of the movie, they’ll often return to the very same image or words. As moviegoers, we've all been trained to recognize this repetition as a signal that the movie is about to end; that we've come full circle and the story is now complete. More importantly this final simple image, if well done, encapsulates the overall message of the film and helps people remember and talk about the movie later.

Slumdog Millionaire does exactly that by starting with the quiz question I described and ending the film with “D) It is written.” The sentence signals the end of the movie and leaves the audience thinking about its universal themes of love and destiny.

The purpose of the attention getter is exactly that: to get your audience to notice and then focus. Your goal is to say something so interesting that they can’t help but focus their attention on you.

What Is the Attention Getter?

The purpose of the attention getter is exactly that: to get your audience to notice and then focus. People are generally distracted when a presentation begins: settling into their seats, thinking about their own agendas. Your goal is to say something so interesting that they can’t help but focus their attention on you. Besides, if you start with something interesting, you’ll be creating a very positive first impression, along with the anticipation that interesting stuff will continue to come.

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