Paul Williams at Idea Sandbox has written a fantastic piece on the admirable simplicity of TV-show intros. As he says:

It can be challenging to boil down what you do into a short blurb… For inspiration, I suggest paying attention to the 30-second narrations at the beginning of TV shows.

At the start of each episode producers deliver the swift backstory and premise of the show. If this was our first viewing, we would understand what makes the show worth attention.

This is EXACTLY what you need for YOUR elevator pitch… What’s your 30-second blurb? Your backstory that builds awareness of the premise of you (or your project, company, etc…) and lets me know why you’re worth my attention?

As an example, The A-Team, which incidentally may represent the greatest artistic achievement of mankind, manages to communicate a complicated and not altogether coherent backstory in the space of 20 seconds:

In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit.

These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune.

If you have a problem. If no one else can help. And if you can find them. Maybe you can hire…

The A-Team.

Link via John Moore of Brand Autopsy, who points out that these intros are admirably sticky by Made To Stick standards. Absolutely. And one thing we can learn from these intros, that is directly relevant to more everyday work communication, is that we should start presentations with a little bit of context and a little bit of mystery. Context: “In 1972, a crack commando unit…” Mystery: “If no one else can help, and if you can find them…”

Giving a presentation implies that you’ve been asked to state your POV on an issue that is non-obvious. AKA a mystery of sorts.

Here’s a bad way to start a presentation: “Good to see all of you at the Volleyball Happy Hour last Thursday. Now let me start by reviewing the basic assumptions of our research.”

Good way to start a presentation: “Our sales have always been weak among exurban buyers. And yet they visit our stores in reasonable numbers. But only 58% make a purchase, versus 78% of urban visitors. Why? Last time this group met, we committed to figuring out why the exurbans were leaving empty-handed. Today, we’re going to tell you what we heard from them, loud and clear.” It isn’t the A-Team, admittedly, but it will keep the audience conscious.

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