‘I know not to start with “Founded in 1922”. But what do I say instead?’

7th March 2017

First impressions drive everything.

And good or bad, they’re hard to shake once you’ve made them.

It’s the same with your communications.

Your opening sentence drives everything.

Start well, and they’re itching for more. Start badly, and they want you to leave.

In fact, your opening sentence is like a tennis player’s serve. It dictates the whole point. Serve well, and you probably win the point. Serve badly, and you don’t.

So practise your start. Serve well. And things tend to go the way you want.

Plus, there’s another reason your opening is like a tennis serve…

Your serve – like your first sentence – is the only time you aren’t responding to where your opponent’s hit it.

So, if you don’t serve/start well, it’s your fault – nobody else’s.

Fortunately, your start’s pretty easy to get right. All it takes is preparation.

For example, if you’re chairing an internal meeting, which of these first serves is better?

  • “Welcome to today’s meeting. We are here for an hour. This is the agenda we’ll be covering – XYZ. We’ll then end with Any Other Business, to discuss anything else we all think of”. Or
  • “Welcome to today’s meeting. The only reason we’re here is that – after it – we need to be able to do X. As soon as we can, we’ll finish”

Or if you’re sending an email, which serve will win the point/get the email opened?

  • ‘FYI’, or
  • ‘John, a quick question to ask…’

Another example:

  • ‘Latest sales figures’, or
  • ‘Making sure you get paid this month’

Let’s do one more example – when you’re selling.

The traditional start is a tedious, wordy slide – topped with the dreaded “We were founded in 1922”.

Trust me: this is a terrible serve.

Nobody cares how old you are.

So what should you do instead?

Well, for your first meeting, I advise you don’t take slides. That way, you can have a chat. Ask them questions. Find out about their business. Tell them interesting things about yours. And, if you get on, see whether you both want to explore things further in a second meeting.

This makes perfect sense. So do that.

But if you feel you absolutely need slides, try this instead:

Contact them a few days before the meeting, asking which topics they’d like you to focus on in the meeting. Then, create your slides around these topics:

  • Slide 1 – include their #1 priority. So, if they said they want to export into Belgium, title it “The best way to export into Belgium” or some such
  • Slide 2 – list all the topics they asked you to talk about. So, this slide is your ‘contents page’
  • Slides 3+ – a bit more info on each of these topics
  • Last slide – your ‘Call To Action’ – what you want them to do next

Miles better than saying how old you are, how many employees you have… and then the next slide showing a map of all your offices. Eek.

You see, every time you communicate, you make a first impression. You can’t avoid that. It’s definitely happening.

So it might as well be brilliant.

A bit of prep helps ensure it is.

Action point

Preview today’s communications. Have you practised your first serve enough? If not, work out how you’re going to start/serve, so that people engage instantly.

Here’s a list of titles/serves. These – if I’ve done my job correctly – will mean you want to know more about each (I certainly hope that, after reading them, you don’t say ‘That’s all very well, Andy… but what year were you founded?!’)

So, what do you think of these?

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