15 ways to start a presentation
January 22, 2021

15 Ways to Kick-Start Your Presentation!

Hermann Hesse said, “There is magic in every beginning.” Hesse was referring to the stages of life. Had he been talking about presentations his statement might not have been so positive. As most of us know, the beginnings of presentations are usually anything but magical. They often start with a clichéd, uninspired greeting mumbled quickly by the presenter – not the most exciting or compelling way to get things rolling!  Here are 15 simple tips on how to get your presentation off to a better start.

Starting a presentation: Why you should do it differently

It’s the content that matters, right? So why all this fuss about tricks, ideas and strategies for the ideal presentation? And even more so about the beginning of a presentation? A brief welcome, going through the formalities and focusing on the important facts – that’s what matters, right? In a way, yes. But to truly hook your audience in, you’ll need more than a straightforward, factual approach.

Why the introduction to your presentation is so important

Even before we consciously process information, our brain filters and categorizes it. This is called selective perception. Without thinking about it, our brain decides, in a fraction of a second, whether something is known or unknown, important or unimportant, interesting or uninteresting. It’s a really useful tool! If we were to consciously perceive all stimuli and information all the time, it would drive us crazy and make us incapable of acting. But selective perception also prevents us from focusing our attention where we might want to. As a presenter, this inattentional blindness can be your undoing. As soon as you open your mouth and look at your very first slide, your audience’s brains are deciding whether or not to focus on you.

So, what is the right way to start a presentation?

How should you start your presentation so that your audience doesn’t tune out? Your audience is far too familiar with the dry, uninspired introductory slide. Start things off this way and before you know it, they’ll file your presentation under “long-winded, boring and standard”. And no one wants that.

You want to grab attention, arouse interest, curiosity and ideally even emotions right from the start. Give people a reason to listen to you. Captivate, raise questions, make your words matter! Here are some tips on how to do just that.

 

1. Beware the cliché trap

Just like the standard opening slide, using clumsy, boilerplate phrases right at the beginning (not to mention during the rest of your presentation) will inevitably come across as stodgy and uninspired.

Here are some ideas on what to avoid and what to say instead:

  • Impersonal greeting: Opening with, “Dear attendees” or, “Dear audience” won’t establish a connection with your audience. Address people as who they are: employees, colleagues, associates, etc.
  • Meaningless empty phrases: Thanking people for coming or telling them that you have the honor of presenting today is well-intentioned but may come across as empty talk. Again, a more personal touch is better: “It’s great to see you all here today.”
  • Apologies: Apologizing up front draws focus to things that otherwise might have gone unnoticed. On top of that, you won’t come across as the confident, self-assured speaker that you are. So, refrain from statements such as, “First, I must apologize for my impromptu presentation” or, “I’m afraid I’m not a very entertaining speaker.”

2. Tell your audience not what, but why you’re presenting

Most of the time, your audience will know why they’re there and what the presentation is about. Yet there are situations in which you need to introduce both yourself and your topic. So, what’s the best way to do this?

The standard introduction slide showing your name and topic is not the most exciting way to get your presentation going. Instead of stating what you’re presenting, how about telling your audience why you’re presenting? For example, substitute, “I’m here to present last year’s sales figures.” with, “I’m here to discuss how we can improve on last year’s sales figures.” Giving the purpose of the presentation is an effective alternative to stiff introductions and a great way to grab the attention of your audience.

3. Interact with your audience

Nothing energizes people more than being actively involved in something. Being addressed, being asked for our opinion, being part of something – that’s gets our attention. So why not use your presentation’s intro to engage your audience?

This could be done with a question, a short survey, a guessing game or even some kind of brainstorming activity to warm your audience up (“What comes to mind when you think about today’s topic?”). This kind of interactive kick-off should be informal and not feel like a test. It’s there to provide a smooth transition to the heart of your presentation and get your audience into your topic.

You could also start by asking about any issues or unanswered questions that your presentation can solve or answer. Make sure you’re as familiar with the subject matter as possible so you can respond to any and all questions that may arise. Find more information on this type of presentation here.

4. Make a statement

Start your presentation with an assertion, a promise, a fact or a quote. As the presentation progresses, keep coming back to this statement by proving, qualifying or refuting it.

A little shock value can go a long way, too. Try making your statement provocative or a little edgy. Because when your audience thinks, “How can they claim something like that?”, you’ll have them right where you want them. They’ll want to know how you arrived at that statement and how you’re going to back it up.
You can also use your core statement right at the beginning. Just make sure it’s formulated in a way that it arouses interest.

5. Talk about a current or historical topic

Checking out the latest headlines, the company’s latest announcements or other current affairs can pay dividends when you’re preparing your presentation. Current, hot topics that are relevant to your presentation will practically deliver your introduction on a silver platter.

It could be something like this: “You may have seen a recent study on the state of digitalization in Germany in the news yesterday. We’ve obviously got a long way to go. And that’s exactly what I’d like to talk to you about.”. You can also quote the relevant headline or article on your first slide.

A current, company-related reference can also be used in work presentations: “The new annual report came out this morning. Maybe you already had a chance to take a look at it. I’d like to talk about the latest figures.” Historical facts can also be used in the same way or to contrast with what’s going on now.

6. Use Media

Let’s face it, people want to be entertained. Words alone can be enough, but adding some media makes things easier. Everyone finds pictures, videos and music entertaining. They can jump start any presentation by providing the audience with different ways to get into the topic.
You can use something provocative, funny, moving or unsettling. The main thing is that it creates interest and relates to your content.

7. Share a personal anecdote

Sharing an anecdote about yourself is a great way to build rapport with your audience. It also sets the stage for you as a presenter. If your anecdote is funny and engaging, the audience will see you as funny and engaging. Here’s a great example of how this effective icebreaker works.

8. Use humor

This won’t work for all topics and it has to suit you as a speaker. A joke, no matter how good, will seem artificial and put on if you don’t feel comfortable telling it. But when done right, a funny introduction can be a great icebreaker.

It’s about creating a relaxed atmosphere. Humor gives signals to the audience that this presentation won’t be dry or dull and it’s worthwhile to stick around.

9. Add the element of surprise

Surprising facts or actions can also be used to grab your audience’s attention right from at the start. Choose an eye-opening statistic or a little-known fact about your presentation topic. It doesn’t have to be deadly serious; it can be a bit playful, too. For example, did you know that the brain blocks out superfluous things, such as the second “that” in a sentence?

Even doing something unexpected, such as using specific gestures and props, can start your presentation (like here) in a surprising way. What you do can be shocking, funny or thought-provoking – the main thing is that it creates an unconventional intro. Whether it’s through acting, singing or even eating on stage, let your imagination and creativity be your guide.

10. Frame your presentation

It’s never a bad idea to start your presentation with the end in mind. Connecting the beginning to the conclusion – bookending your presentation – can be particularly effective. Here are some ideas on how to do this:

  • Make a statement at the beginning and revisit it at the end. What impact does the statement have now?
  • Have your audience vote on the same question at the beginning and at the end. Discuss whether your presentation influenced their second vote and why.
  • Start and end with the same words, such as a quote or idiom. The presentation should underline its meaning.

More information about the importance of the end of the presentation and how you can make it effective can be found in our post, Because First Impressions Aren’t Everything: 20 Tips and Ideas for a Winning Conclusion to Your Presentation.

11. Leverage imagination

 Starting your presentation with “What if” or “Imagine” is a great, interactive technique for your presentation’s intro. It invites the audience to visualize the scenario you give them. Connect that scenario to your message, and your audience will be immediately drawn into your presentation. Click here for a moving and powerful example of this.

12. Let a demo do the talking

Instead of starting with a greeting, grab your audience’s attention with a product demo. Let’s say you’re working on a new voice assistant that you’re about to unveil. Why not give your attendees a little taste of what it can do? Use the product you are presenting to make a connection between plain theory and practical use. It’s a great hook for the beginning of your presentation.

13. Start with the end

We all know that the conclusion comes at the end of a presentation. But why not start with it? Explain your conclusion at the beginning of your presentation. It’s a compelling way to get things rolling.

14. Combine ideas

You don’t have to choose just one technique to start your presentation. Instead, try combining some of the ideas we’ve already mentioned. Show a picture and explain what personal meaning it has for you. Combine a current statistic with an historical one. Or use facts from a recent study to support your personal anecdote.
Let those creative juices flow but remember to keep it simple. Too many ideas at the beginning will dilute and confuse your content.

15. Presentation is everything

This boils down to you. It’s not just what you say that matters, it’s how you say it. The most compelling and engaging intro will fall flat if it’s mumbled or read dryly from a script. It’s how you walk on to the stage or into the room. Remember, an audience forms an opinion the minute they see, not hear, a presenter. Pay attention to your posture and gestures. Are you standing up straight? Are you using your hands too much? Too little? Are you making eye contact with your audience?
You may be thinking, “How can I focus on all this while I’m presenting?!”

The short answer is, you can’t. That’s why practice is your best weapon. Memorize your intro. Rehearse it in front of a mirror or better yet, ask family or friends to be your audience. You can even film your run-through on your phone to see exactly what you do well and what could be better. The more prepared you are, the less nervous you’ll be. And this is key for getting your presentation off on the right foot.

One more tip: If time and circumstances permit, make some informal small talk while your audience is gathering. This will also ease any butterflies you may have.

Set the tone for the rest of your presentation

There are so many different and creative ways to start your presentation. They’ll not only improve your presentation and entertain your audience, but they’ll also make you a better presenter. Try one of these tips and you’ll soon realize that presenting can actually be an enjoyable experience! Wishing you fun and success in bringing some “magic” into the beginning of your next presentation.

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