How to Start a Presentation

Are you ready to wow the crowd during your next presentation?

First impressions are everything -- and that’s certainly the case when you’re in the hot seat and are making a presentation in front of a group of people. The statistics vary about just how long you have to make a good first impression on an audience. Some say you have about one minute, while others say you have fifteen seconds or less, suggests an article on the Business Insider website. In any case, that doesn’t give you very long at all to get your audience interested in your topic, let alone hold their attention throughout the meat of your presentation.

See Also: How to Overcome Business Presentation Fears

With that in mind, the start of your presentation is extremely important. You have lots of options for how to start out, but whatever you do, don’t start with a bland introduction about yourself. Instead, start out with something that will grab the audience, and will help them remember you.

In case you need some help, here are some ideas for how to start your presentation. One or all of these ideas may work, depending on the material you’re covering and the makeup of your audience.

1. Start Out Stoic

To really make an impact during your presentation, try to stay silent until it’s time for you to begin. Remain calm and don’t shuffle around too much. Ideally, do your troubleshooting with any technology you plan to use before the audience begins to filter in, so that you don’t have to deal with embarrassing flubs or problems in front of your audience. Wait until you say anything to the audience; let the first thing you say be the impactful statement or question that you’ve carefully planned.

2. Pose a Question

One big key to engaging your audience is getting them to think. Thus, a great way to start your presentation is to ask a compelling question. This can be a great way to start out when you’re covering a topic that deals with a controversial topic or a major issue which you’re trying to solve. Ask a simple question and ask for a show of hands for those who wish to answer the question one way or another. This can help the audience get a sense of how the rest of the audience thinks about the issue which you’re covering.

3. Use Visuals

Presentations are always more interesting with visuals, so you’ll definitely want to have some. Contrary to what you might think, though, they don’t have to be elaborate. Your PowerPoint doesn’t need to be rife with excess photos, statistics, or text. Sometimes, a simple photo, or a funny one, can be all you need to start out.

Visuals that you can hold in your hand can also work well. At the start of your presentation, you could also pass around a component that goes into your product, or show a photo of the place where your unique product comes from. If there’s a strange story involved that you can demonstrate with something you hold in your hand, bring it along and pass it around. If you’re dealing with a large audience, you may also want to project that visual on the screen.

4. Ask for Audience Participation

Another way to pose a question is to ask an audience member to share their experience. Instead of asking a yes or no question, or one in which audience members raise their hands to show their thoughts on an issue, ask a question that requires a response, and then ask for audience members to share their responses to the rest of the audience. If you’re talking about a certain common household product, for example, you might ask audience members to tell at what age they used that product for the first time. If you’re selling washing machines, for example, it might shock the audience to find out that a male member of the audience used one for the first time at age twenty-one, while another female member used one at age nine. In that example, the audience might then begin to think about various ways they’d market that product depending on gender or socioeconomic status.

Another way to pose a question, is to simply pose the question, and then tell the audience to think about it throughout the program. Tell them that you’ll be answering it later -- giving them more impetus for paying attention throughout the presentation.

5. Introduce a Statistic

Starting off with a statistic that will shock the audience or get them thinking about the topic can be another effective way to start off your presentation. If you’re using a PowerPoint or other presentation program, show the statistic in a simple manner as you talk about it. For example, if you’re saying that 75 percent of people feel a certain way about a product, you might simply show the number 75 as your first slide.

6. Tell a Story

Storytelling can lighten the mood at the beginning of your presentation. If your presentation is centered around you and your personal story, you might tell a personal story about how you entered into a certain profession, for example. If your presentation centers around a product, you might tell a story about a person who’s using the product. You might think of it like a case study. Introduce the problem the person had in the beginning, and then tell the audience that your product helped solve that problem. You might even leave the middle portion of the story out of it, so that the audience is left wondering how you solved the customer’s problem with the product. Later in the presentation, fill in the details and provide more information about how the product works and how it’s working for your real-life example.

7. Tell a Joke

Lightening the mood with a joke or a lighthearted moment is always a good way to start off -- especially if the audience knows that the subject matter is inherently boring or serious. Telling a joke at the start gives the audience permission to relax and even enjoy your subject matter. You can also do this by showing a funny cartoon, or even showing a short video clip of a humorous situation that relates to your industry. As with all business situations, though, make sure the joke is politically correct and won’t be construed as offensive in any way.

See Also: How to Conquer Nerves When Presenting at Work

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As you’ve seen from the above suggestions, the key to starting off a presentation is giving the audience something they’ll remember. That’s the basic premise -- but the industry in which you work or the nature of the presentation should give you some idea of how to proceed and what type of tool to use to really grab that audience’s attention.

And one more tip: However you choose to start off your presentation, be sure you give yourself time to practice beforehand. Ideally, you’ll be able to practice with a co-worker or a trusted friend, so you can work out the kinks. You might have thought that your joke was sure to get some laughs, but you’ll only really know when you try it out on a real live person. If it falls flat, you’ll still have time to choose something else...

Do you think you have good public speaking skills? Share your tips on how to become a better public speaker in the comments section below.

Business Insider: Effective Presentation Tips


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