The first 30 seconds of a presentation is crucial – so don’t waste it. You need to grab the attention of your audience and engage their interest from the start. Many speakers begin by giving their name and the title of their presentation. This is predictable and boring – and should be avoided whenever possible. Go instead for a strong opening that gets them sitting up and taking notice immediately.
1. Make a bold claim
A bold statement at the beginning of your presentation is guaranteed to get you attention. The more dramatic or provocative it is the more alert they will be and ready to listen to what you say next.
2. Invite them to ‘Imagine’
Starting your presentation with the word ‘imagine’ places your audience in the centre of an experience. Dr Frank Luntz, in his book Words That Work says imagine is one of the most powerful words in the English language. It makes the audience active participants in the presentation, rather than detached onlookers. It transforms the presenter’s words into vivid pictures, sounds and feelings in the minds of those listening.
3. Present a striking fact or statistic
A simple, powerful way of grabbing the attention of an audience is to present them with a striking fact or statistic. This is especially effective when it’s surprising or counter-intuitive. Use accurate, verifiable numbers whenever possible and where you have credible external sources make sure you name them.
4. Ask a question
Asking the audience a question is one of the most powerful ways of getting them engaged right from the start. This is easier with small- to medium-sized groups where it’s easy to converse with them, and more of a challenge with larger groups like conferences, where you need a microphone.
Another alternative is to ask a rhetorical question and provide the answer yourself. This is not usually as strong or engaging as a real question, but has the advantage of being quicker, and avoids the risk of getting embroiled in a long discussion.
5. Tell a story or anecdote
When you start with a story you grab people immediately, especially when you share a personal experience that others can relate to. Make sure, though, that people see the relevance to the topic you are talking about and keep opening stories relatively brief. If you go on too long your audience may grow restless as they wait for you to get to the point.
6. Use an aphorism or proverb
Proverbs, aphorisms, or familiar sayings can be a great way of opening provided they relate closely to your message. Use them carefully, though, or they might come across as tired, obvious clichés.
7. Make it mysterious
Audiences are easily hooked when you arouse their curiosity. In the mystery opening you give them ambiguous clues before revealing your point. You need to get the timing right because some people may be irritated rather than amused at the ‘game’ you’re playing if you string it out for too long.
8. Introduce an analogy or metaphor
Analogies, similes and metaphors are comparisons between two apparently unrelated items. They’re a practical, engaging way of making a complex or theoretical concept easier to understand.
9. Commence with a quote
Quotes can be an extremely effective ways of opening a presentation. They may be well known or more obscure. You might open a presentation on the challenges facing your company with the following observation from John F Kennedy: When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters – one represents danger, and the other represents an opportunity.
10. Use humour
Many people believe it’s a good idea to start – and end – a presentation with a joke, on the basis that you should get people in a good mood as soon as possible and leave them smiling at the end. There are plenty of books on the market full of material you can use to open in an ‘amusing’ way. Beware – this is a high-risk strategy. Gentle, appropriate humour works better.