Listeners pay close attention to the beginnings of presentations. Minds often wander in the middle, and retention drops. When the listener gets a signal that the end is near—“In conclusion…”— attention increases once again. Primacy is the first thing listeners hear; recency is the last. Use primacy and recency to structure and remember your presentations. Both you and your audience will benefit.

It will be easier to hold your listeners’ attention throughout a presentation if you have grabbed it at the beginning. As the words themselves imply, to grab and to hold attention takes energy—vocal and physical exertion. As a speaker you must work hard immediately. Always begin with a compelling idea, stated as your theme. Wait to introduce yourself in the second or third sentence. Never ramble on.

Even if you begin in a way that immediately captivates the listeners, it is important to recognize that no one listens attentively 100% of the time. Your goal is to regularly recapture those wandering, inattentive minds in the audience and invite them to pay attention once again.

Since beginnings and endings are good, create more of them. Rather than conceive your presentation as having only one beginning and one ending, clearly delineate each topic area. Begin new topics with a headline (begin/primacy) and explicitly mark the conclusion of the topic with a wrap-up (end/recency). When your major ideas are demarcated in this fashion, your presentation will have many beginnings and endings. Each time a new topic is headlined and closed out, the daydreaming (or emailing) listener’s attention is refreshed.