Spoiler Alert

One of the primary commandments of journalism is “Don’t bury the lede,” meaning don’t hide your main message. 

The reverse is true in theater, film, and television criticism. Most critics make it a practice never to describe the climax of a drama, especially when the ending is a surprise. They firmly believe that a review of Citizen Kane should not reveal the identity of “Rosebud” or a review of Breaking Bad should not reveal what becomes of Walter White. 

They implement this practice by adding a “spoiler alert” to their reviews, advising readers that vital plot information is to follow. Google has even put out a spoiler alert app so that “you can decide whether you want to watch a movie or not in seconds…or you can spoil movies for your friends with one line.”

A film scheduled for release later this year disagrees. In fact, the title puts it right out there: Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies. The film, starring Jim Parsons and Sally Field is about the last months of a man dying of cancer. The end is clear at the beginning.

Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott, the co-chief film critics of the New York Times, agree with the importance of revelations, and their opinions provide an important lesson for presenters. Mr. Scott has no qualms about letting the cat out of the bag:

Anna Karenina dies at the end. Madame Bovary too. Also Hamlet and just about everyone else in Hamlet.

Nor does Ms. Dargis:

Seriously, if you don’t want to know what happens in a film, book, play or television show, you shouldn’t read the reviews until after you’ve watched or read the work yourself. (I rarely do.) Because no matter how delicately a critic tiptoes around the object, she invariably reveals something that someone resents, whether it’s a bit of plot, a line of dialogue or…a shameless finale.

Surprise revelations are all well and good for plays and films because the suspense keeps theater audiences glued to their seats and movie audiences buying tubs of popcorn and gallons of soda pop, but suspense is not good for presentation audiences. They have neither the time nor the inclination for such tactics. The last thing you want your audiences to think is, “What’s your point?”

To avoid this, state your objective at the very beginning of your presentation—within the first 90 seconds. But state it toward the end of that minute and a half, not in your very first words. If you start by saying, “Hi, I’m here to get your approval,” or “Hi, I’m here to get you to buy my product/service,” you’ll be too blunt, it would be too hard sell. 

Instead, start with a statement that will make your audience start thinking about a particular need with which they can identify and then lead them to your objective. For instance, “Our company has been running up to six days late in product fulfillment…” Go on to describe your plan to accelerate product fulfillment and then ask for approval. Or, in the other example, “75 percent of companies in your category are seeking to be more efficient…” Go on to describe how your product/service uniquely provides that efficiency and then ask for the order.

You must be as open about your point at the start of your pitch as Ms. Dargis and Mr. Scott are about endings. A playwright or a filmmaker can wait until the very last scene to reveal that the butler did it; you do not have that luxury.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Get to the point!

Don’t bury the lede.

This blog is an excerpt from my book Winning Strategies for Power Presentations published by Pearson. Also check out my newly released Presentation Trilogy—Presenting to Win, The Power Presenter, and In the Line of Fireavailable on Amazon and other retailers.