Did you know this? Knowing how to start a presentation is knowing how to present.
The first moments of your presentation, no matter how brief, are a huge deal. They have a massive impact not only on what follows, but also whether or not your audience follows along with you.
Sure, it’s tricky, it’s nerve-wracking and it’s crucial to nail down. But, with these 7 ways to start a presentation, you can have any audience captivated from your very first sentence.
How To Start a Presentation: The Guide
1. Ask a Question
Let me ask you this: how many times have you opened a presentation with a question?
Furthermore, have you ever stopped to wonder why an immediate question might be a great way to start a presentation?
Well, let me answer that one. It’s because questions are interactive, and interactivity is what audiences bored to death of one-way monologues crave the most.
Robert Kennedy III, international keynote speaker, lists 4 types of questions to use right at the beginning of your presentation:
|Types of Question||Examples|
|1. Experiences||– When was the last time you…?
– How often do you think about…?
– What happened in your first ever job interview?
(To be shown alongside something else)
|– How much do you agree with this statement?
– Which image here speaks to you the most?
– Why do you think so many people prefer this to this?
|3. Imagination||– What if you could….?
– If you were…., how would you…..?
– Imagine if this happened. What would you do…?
|4. Emotions||– How did you feel when this happened?
– Would you be excited by this?
– What’s your biggest fear?
While these questions might be engaging, they’re not really questions, are they? You don’t ask them in the hope that your audience will stand up, one-by-one, and actually answer them.
There’s only one thing better than a rhetorical question like this: a question that your audience truly answers, live, right in the moment.
There’s a free tool for that…
AhaSlides lets you start your presentation with a question slide, then gather actual answers and opinions from your audience (via their phones) in real-time. These questions can take the form of word clouds, multiple choice questions, rating scales, scored quizzes and so much more.
Not only does opening in this way get your audience immediately paying attention, it also covers some of the other tips mentioned in this article. Including…
- Getting factual – Your audience’s responses are the facts.
- Making it visual – Their responses are presented in a visual graph, scale or word cloud.
- Being super relatable – The audience is now fully involved in your presentation, both from the outside and the inside.
2. Introduce Yourself as a Person, not a Presenter
Some great, all-encompassing piece of advice on how to introduce yourself in a presentation comes from Conor Neill, serial entrepreneur and president of Vistage Spain.
He likens starting a presentation to meeting someone new at a bar. He’s not talking about quaffing 5 pints beforehand to establish some Dutch courage, more like introducing yourself in a way that feels friendly, natural and most of all, personal.
Imagine this: You’re in a bar and someone has piqued your interest. After a few furtive glances, you build up the courage and approach them with this:
Hi, I’m Gary, I’ve been an economic biologist for 40 years and I want to talk to you about the microeconomics of ants.
– You, going home alone tonight.
No matter how interesting your topic is, no one wants to hear the far-too-commonly-used ‘name, title, topic’ procession, as it offers absolutely nothing personal to latch onto.
Now, imagine this: You’re in the same bar a week later and someone else has piqued your interest. Let’s try this again, you think, and tonight you go with this:
Oh hey, I’m Gary, I think we know someone in common…
– You, establishing a connection.
This time, you’ve decided to treat your listener as a friend to be made, rather than as a passive audience. You’ve introduced yourself in a personal way that has made a connection and has opened the door to intrigue.
We recommend checking out the full ‘how to start a presentation’ speech by Conor Neill below. Sure, it’s from 2012 and he makes some dust-coated references to Blackberries, but his advice is timeless and incredibly helpful. It’s a fun watch; he’s entertaining and he knows what he’s talking about.
3. Tell a Story
If you did watch the full video above, you’d know that Conor Neill’s absolute favourite tip for starting a presentation is this: telling a story.
Think about how this magical sentence makes you feel:
Once upon a time…
For pretty much every child that hears these 4 words, this is an instant attention grabber. Even as a man in his 30s, this opener still sets my imagination whirring as to what might follow.
Just on the off-chance that the audience for your presentation isn’t a room of 4 year-olds, don’t worry – there are grown-up versions of ‘once upon a time’.
And they all involve people. Just like these:
- “The other day I met someone who completely changed my thinking…”
- “There’s a person at my company who once told me….”
- “I’ll never forget this customer we had 2 years ago…”
Remember this 👉 Good stories are about people; they’re not about things. They’re not about products or companies or revenue, they’re about the lives, the achievements, the struggles and the sacrifices of the people behind the things.
Aside from conjuring an immediate surge of interest by humanising your topic, there are several other benefits to starting a presentation with a story:
- Stories make YOU more relatable – Just like in tip #2, stories can make you, the presenter, seem more personal. Your own experiences with other people speak far louder to audiences than stale introductions of your topic.
- They give you a central theme – Though stories are a great way to start a presentation, they also help to keep the entire thing cohesive. Calling back to your initial story at later points in your presentation not only helps to solidify your information in the real world, but it also keeps the audience engaged through the narrative.
- They’re jargon busters – Ever heard a children’s story that starts with ‘once upon a time, Prince Charming drilled down on the actionability principle inherent in agile methodology‘? A good, natural story has inherent simplicity that any audience can understand.
💡 Going virtual with your presentation? Check out 7 tips on how to make it seamless!
4. Get Factual
There are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on earth.
Did your mind just explode with questions, thoughts and theories? That’s how to start a presentation.
Using a fact as an opener to a presentation is an instant attention grabber.
Naturally, the more shocking the fact is, the more your audience is drawn to it. While it’s tempting to go for pure shock factor, facts need to have some mutual connection with the topic of your presentation. They need to offer an easy segue into the body of your material.
Here’s an example I recently used at an online event ran from Singapore 👇
“In the U.S alone, around 1 billion trees’ worth of paper are thrown away every year.”
The speech I was giving was about our software, AhaSlides, which provides ways to make presentations and quizzes interactive without the need to use stacks of paper.
Though that’s not the biggest selling point of AhaSlides, it was super easy for me to make a connection between that shocking statistic and what our software offers. From there, segueing into the bulk of the topic was a breeze.
At the end of the day, a quote gives the audience something tangible, memorable and understandable to chew on, all while you proceed into a presentation that will likely be a series of more abstract ideas.
5. Make it Visual
There’s a reason I chose the GIF above: it’s a mix between a fact and an engaging visual.
While facts grab attention through words, visuals achieve the same thing by appealing to a different part of a brain. A more easily stimulated part of the brain.
In fact, facts and visuals usually go hand-in-hand when it comes to how to start a presentation. Check out these facts about visuals:
It’s the last stat here that has the biggest implications for you.
Think about this 👇
I could spend all day telling you, through voice and text, about the impact of plastic in our oceans. You may not listen, but the chances are that you will be more convinced by a single image:
That’s because images, and art in particular, are way better at connecting to your emotions than I am. And connecting to emotions, whether it’s through introductions, stories, facts, quotes or images, is what gives a presentation its persuasive power.
On a more practical level, visuals also help make potentially convoluted data super clear. While it’s not a great idea to start a presentation with a graph that risks overwhelming the audience with data; visual presentation material like this can certainly be your best friend later on.
6. Use a Solitary Quote
Very much like a fact, a single quote can add a huge deal of credibility to your point.
Unlike a fact, however, it’s the source of the quote that often carries a lot of the gravitas.
The thing is, literally anything that anyone says can be considered a quote. Stick some quotation marks around it and…
…you’ve got yourself a quote.
Lawrence Haywood – 2021
What you really want is a quote that starts a presentation with a bang. To do that, it has to check these boxes:
- Thought-provoking: Something that gets the audience’s brains working the second they hear it.
- Punchy: Something 1 or 2 sentences long, and short sentences at that.
- Self-explanatory: Something that requires no further input from you to aid understanding.
- Relevant: Something that helps you segue into your topic.
For mega-engagement, I’ve found it’s sometimes a good idea to go with a controversial quote.
I’m not talking something completely heinous that gets you thrown out of the conference; just something that doesn’t encourage a unilateral ‘nod and move on’ response from your audience.
Check this example 👇
“When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life. Now that I am old, I know that it is” – Oscar Wilde
This certainly isn’t a quote that elicits total agreement. Its controversial nature offers immediate attention, a great talking point and even a way to encourage audience participation via a ‘how much do you agree?’ question (like in tip #1).
7. Make it Humorous
One more thing a quote can offer you is the chance to get people laughing.
How many times have you, yourself, been an unwilling audience member in your 7th presentation of the day, needing some reason to smile as the presenter plunges you head-first into the 42 problems of stopgap solutioneering?
Humour takes your presentation one step closer to a show, and one step further from a funeral procession.
Aside from being a great stimulator, a bit of comedy can also give you these benefits:
- To melt the tension – For you, mostly. Kicking off your presentation with a laugh, or even with a chuckle, can do wonders for your confidence.
- To form a bond with the audience – The very nature of humour is that it’s personal. It’s not business. It’s not data. It’s human and it’s endearing.
- To make it memorable – Laughter has been proven to increase short-term memory. If you want your audience to remember your key takeaways: make ’em laugh.
Not a comedian? Not a problem. Check out these tips on how to start a presentation with humour 👇
- Use a funny quote – You don’t have to be funny if you quote someone who is.
- Don’t crowbar it – If you’re finding it difficult to think of a funny way to start your presentation, just leave it. Forced humour is the absolute worst.
- Flip the script – I mentioned in tip #1 to keep introductions away from the over-flogged ‘name, title, topic’ formula, but the ‘name, title, pun’ formula can break the mould in a funny way. Check out below what I mean…
My name is (name), I am a (title) and (pun).
And here it is in action:
My name is Chris, I’m an astronomer and lately my whole career has been looking up.
You, getting off on the right foot