Assuming you already have something worth writing or presenting, here is some worthwhile advice from Kathy Sierra in her post titled “Where to Start” over at Creating Passionate Users. She offers a list of good ways to begin either a presentation or an article, but the gist of the post is to start anywhere except the beginning of the story. All too often librarian presenters start with loads of background information about their institution or the project being discussed. Some of that may be of value to the presentation or article, but just don’t start there. So how do you start? I think the best suggestion Sierra offers is this one:
Show, Don’t Tell
If you have to TELL your audience that they should care, you’re screwed. The motivation for why they should care should be an inherent part of the story, scenarios, examples, graphics, etc.
What scenario, graphic or multimedia segment can you offer to immediately grab the attendees’ attention? I recall too many presentations where the focus is on a new service or technology application, and it doesn’t get shown until twenty minutes into the presentation. Start by showing the good stuff and then return to the background discussion (if needed at all).
One exception to Sierra’s rule may be the traditional scholarly article. There is a clear structure for organizing the article that requires certain types of information to be presented in an orderly fashion. Still, there’s no reason the first several paragraphs couldn’t be more catchier than just laying out a rationale for the article – or perhaps providing it in a more creative way, such as with a scenario that prompted the research in the first place.
Experimenting with a non-traditional beginning to your article or presentation can be a bit scary. What if it doesn’t work? Isn’t it easier to just play it safe with a ho-hum start? Yes, there is going to be some risk, either personally or involving the use of technology, but like any risk the return may be well worth it. It may help to test out several alternate beginnings on colleagues for their feedback, but ultimately you may just need to go with your gut instinct. I think any audience, understanding that something new or a bit different was attempted, would respect a presenter or writer more for their effort than the actual outcome. Each presentation or article is a learning experience. They may not always succeed as intended, but the learning always helps to improve the next one.