The BEST Way to Start a Presentation

QUESTION:
According to most public speaking experts, the first 30 seconds of a speech are extremely crucial for the success of a presentation. So, what’s the best way to start a presentation?

ANSWER:
We get this question a lot in our presentation skills workshops. I also read similar questions on discussion boards on LinkedIn. Unfortunately, on LinkedIn, it seems that everyone’s a presentation expert. That leads to a lot of questionable advice. No wonder presenters are confused about how to begin.

Typical “expert” advice includes:

  • Show a video
  • Ask an open-ended question
  • Ask questions about their day so far
  • Have people introduce themselves to each other

While those ideas—if kept in a business context—aren’t terrible, they’re not enough on their own. Ideas that are terrible:

  • Play music
  • Comment on a sports team
  • Tell a joke
  • State a fact that sounds preposterous
  • Do an ice breaker exercise (do not get me started on ice breakers…)
  • Jumping jacks

Enough with the gimmicks

Participants in business presentations are not children. They are busy people at work who deserve better.

While I’ll agree that the first few moments of a presentation should get you started on the right foot, gimmicks don’t work. Instead, work to engage your listeners in a meaningful, interesting, relevant dialogue.

Presentations ARE NOT theatre performances

We need to move away from the idea that a business presenter’s job is to entertain, WOW, or dazzle. Preparing a whiz-bang attention grabber ahead of time will always seem contrived. Plus, it ignores the fact that something took place prior to your presentation. Remember, the curtain isn’t going up. The spotlights aren’t coming on. When you walk to the front of the room, you’re doing so in the context of whatever happened before. You need to acknowledge that and then move into your presentation.

Presentations ARE Orderly Conversations

Every presenter’s job is to spark a conversation. If you read this blog regularly, you know that we define presentations as Orderly Conversations. “Orderly” because they need to be carefully organized and thought through. “Conversations” because they need to feel spontaneous and interactive right from the start.

So, what IS the best way to start an orderly conversation?

Be in the moment, refer to the listeners’ current situation, and talk about how your presentation is going to address that issue. Examples:

Be in the moment:

  • “It’s been a long day (it’s hot, we’re behind schedule, etc.), so I’ll keep our discussion about X brief.”
  • “John just discussed ABC; I’m going to talk about XYZ.”
  • “Hope you all had a good evening; this morning we’re going to turn our focus toward…”

Refer to their current situation and your response to it:

  • “As we know, sales are sluggish, but today we’re going to talk about a new promotion that will turn things around.”
  • “We’re all busy and most of us feel overwhelmed. I’m here to talk about a new process to ease the pain.”
  • “A lot of discussion has been about X for some time now. Today we’re going to address the issue so we can move on.”
  • “The bad news is X, the good news is Y, and that’s what we’re here to talk about today.”

Give them a reason to listen and participate
Taking this approach with your introduction will give your listeners a reason to participate in the conversation without resorting to manipulation.

What are your thoughts?

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About the Author: Greg Owen-Boger

Greg Owen-Boger has been with Turpin Communication since 1995, first as a cameraman, then instructor, account manager, and now vice president. Schooled in management and the performing arts, Greg brings a diverse set of skills and experiences to the organization. Greg is one of Turpin’s facilitators and coaches and holds a Bates ExPI™ (Executive Presence Index) coaching certification. When he’s not with clients, he manages the day-to-day operations of the company. Greg is an active member of the Association for Talent Development (ATD) and was the 2015 President of ATD, Chicagoland Chapter. He is a popular speaker, frequent blogger, and the co-author of “The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined,” “The Virtual Orderly Conversation,” and Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide to Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning,” all written with Turpin’s founder, Dale Ludwig.

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