Put A Great Start Into Your Presentation

The beginning of each presentation is crucial. Today that means the first 15–90 seconds. This is when you either grab the audience's attention or don't. It is when the modern audience decides whether you are worth hearing. It's also your chance to focus their attention on your message. The following suggestions will help you open in a way that gains the audience's immediate attention.

  • Get energized right before starting. Techniques for getting energized include deep breathing, visualization, muscle relaxation, etc. Find what works to bring you to maximum energy as you step to the podium. If you try to energize when you get there, you will start "flat" and lose most audiences.
  • Be sure your introduction goes well. Many introductions are flubbed—some badly. Don't leave it to chance. Find who is introducing you and what they plan to say. Have a typed introduction ready. Offer it to that person. Most will appreciate it.
  • Have the audience ready. Don't start until the audience is ready. If people are filtering into the room or are restless (such as after the previous speaker) or are just listless, do what needs to be done to get them ready for you. Don't be afraid to place this responsibility on the person in charge.
  • Take total control of center stage. Have your notes ready to go. Walk directly and confidently to the podium. Pause for 2–5 seconds to call the audiences attention to you. Keep direct eye contact with the audience. Smile (if appropriate). And only then, begin.
  • Start talking in a conversational tone. The best way to begin most presentations is by talking to the audience directly, as in the manner of a conversation. It is friendly, heartfelt, and engaging. It discourages the off-putting tendency toward formality and superiority. For most speakers, it makes them more comfortable at the outset. The best speeches are really good conversations.
  • Prepare your opening last. While it is the first thing you say, the opening depends on your full understanding of your message. You can't choose the most appropriate opening until you know what you want your presentation to accomplish.
  • Make the first words you say count. Your first sentence should be a carefully planned, memorized, direct and purposeful statement. It should point like an arrow of truth to the central point of your message. Don't engage in idle "chatter". Don't use insipid openers like "My topic for today is" or "I would like to talk to you about". Be sure that the first thing you say is interesting to the audience.
  • Keep your opening brief. The attention gaining opening will be the most crafted part of most presentations. Its power stems in part from its tight construction. It commands very close attention by an audience. Such attention can't be held too long. All can be accomplished in 1–3 minutes.
  • Know your opening cold. Write it out, but never read it to the audience. Rehearse it for content and delivery. It should be brief enough and "felt" enough to deliver from memory and from the heart.
  • Plan the transition from the opening to body of your message. A strong opening will stand out, but it can fail if it is so separate in tone, language, or delivery that it does not connect to the body of the presentation. Plan a conscious bridge to the body. Be careful about too sharp a change in delivery (voice, tempo, tone, language, etc.).

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