5 Principles for Starting a Presentation Well

These are from the notes I took from an article by Chip and Dan Heath (authors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die):

  1. Don’t preamble—parachute in.
  2. “The first mission of a presentation is to grab attention.”
  3. A preamble is a laborious overview of what’s going to be covered. Don’t start with this. Don’t follow the “tell them what you’re gonna tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.” Steve Jobs doesn’t present this way. Ronald Reagan didn’t present this way.
  4. Example: Rebecca Fuller presenting on tactile museum exhibits. She parachuted in by shutting off the lights and saying “this is what it’s like for a blind person in most museums.” It wouldn’t have improved here presentation to say “today I’m going to give you an overview of the challenges faced by the visually impaired in most museums.”
  5. “If you bring us face to face with the problem, we don’t need a lot of upfront hand-holding.”

The most important point: parachute it. “Telling them what you’re going to tell them” usually reduces interest.

  • http://www.carolhbates.com Carol Bates

    In college, I was taught to tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. I’ve always tried to follow that tactic in my public speaking. I am preparing for a presentation in September. I am going to practice the parachute in approach to grab the attention of my audience from the get go! Thank you for sharing this principle.

  • Bryan H


    Good points, but I think there is a nuance here that is important to recognize so that the baby isn’t thrown out with the bath water. I taught public speaking and have done a lot of it. The “Tell them…” mantra is still important but HOW you do this and when is what needs attention.

    The problem with how this approach is usually handled is that the “preamble” as you called it is too overt. I liken the poor preamble to the poor power point presentation that basically is a manuscript of what the speaker is saying. A power point should assist in clarifying a point, increasing memory of the presentation or other means of reinforcing (not reiterating) the message nor simply restating it. Likewise, a “preamble” ought to present not exactly where you are going, but what you will be doing in the next 15-120 minutes depending on the type of presentation.

    A caveat or two: (1) More traditional, linear audiences benefit from the preamble whereas younger audiences who are used to grasping things from a non-linear perspective can more easily manage some ambiguity in where you are headed provided you keep their interest engaged. (2) Much of this depends on the type of presentation you are giving as well. What is your primary purpose? To inspire? To inform? To persuade? To teach? To market? (I would argue that part of the reason that Jobs or Reagan don’t need a preamble in the same way is that their purposes are/were to create a feeling associated with their product that in many ways goes beyond the rational information that is typical (and necessary) to many day-to-day presentations we have to give.)

    To me, the difference between parachuting in and the preamble is one simple step that has been missed in any public speaking process: A relevant “attention-getting-opener”. The jump directly to the preview without one is simply to neglect one of the most fundamental lessons of public speaking.

    All that to say, be careful not to throw out the value of telling an audience what you are going to do in a effort to parachute in.

    Thanks for the reminders of what is often neglected!

  • http://www.johngallagherblog.com John Gallagher


    Thanks for sharing. I often subscribe to the TTWYAGTTM in presentations and I can see where this can be a little risky at the start and bore them. I also can see where parachuting in is effective as well. I actually think the two can work well together. I mean wasn’t Rebecca really telling them what she was going to tell them by turning off the lights and proclaiming what it was like for a blind person in most museums? Just in a different, albeit creative, way?

  • http://www.squarepeggedness.wordpress.com Rachael Starke


    I think the difference is between showing and telling. Showing first (turning off the lights, then turning them back on andthen telling what she’d done) is more powerful.