How to start your presentation that doesn't send your audience to sleep

I've been presenting for years, and for the past five years, I've voluntarily presented to a group of teenagers, who I'm sure would have preferred to be on their phones but somehow stayed focused on my message - yet it never occurred to me that people needed help with their presentations that is until the world locked down and went virtual, and every meeting looked the same and every presentation sent you to sleep!

I don't know about you, but I've sat through a lifetime's worth of dull, excruciating, painful presentations, meetings and pitches. As we start opening up our meetings to in-person it only seems fair to try and spread the word that presentations don't have to be boring because let's face it no one needs another PowerPoint presentation filled with text and bullet points. Communications Expert, Nancy Duarte said, "Never deliver a presentation you wouldn’t want to sit through." and that has now become my mission.

What started as a side gig to my marketing consulting quickly became my main focus as I found more and more business leaders and executives asking for help to plan and structure their presentations and pitches. They wanted to make their presentations stand out, be more memorable and make an impact on their audience. They understood that their product launches, sales presentations, employee meetings, and conferences were a direct reflection of their brand as much as their website and social media channels and how their audience felt after sitting through their presentation could make or break a sale.

The beginning of your presentation sets the tone for the rest of the presentation and if you start strong, chances are you'll end on a high note. Instead of making awkward unrelated jokes or worse, apologizing for being there, don't waste those precious opening minutes rambling on pointless details - grab your audience's attention from the very start and get your audience to lean in.

Here are my top 6 ways to help start your presentation with a bang!

1. Tell a captivating story.

You probably know storytelling is the secret sauce that separates good, engaging presentations from bad ones and dotting several stories throughout your presentation will keep your audience emotionally invested in your presentation - but it's also a great way to set the scene and give a sneak peek as to the rest of your presentation.

Learn to tell a great story that encompasses all the right emotions. You're not reading a novel so cut out the minor details.

You can find the right story by asking yourself, “What do I want the audience to know about me?” Although, revealing a personal story or fact may not feel easy, when done right, it can quickly build that all-important emotional connection between you and your audience.

In Susan Cain's TedTalk she not only tells a personal story but also brings along a prop.

Think of a great title for your story such as "How I escaped the rat race!" and use it as a jumping point for your introduction.

2. Turn your data into a shocking headline.

The first sentence that comes out of your mouth has one single purpose: to entice your audience members to want to keep listening, unfortunately when using statistics or data this can often have the opposite effect. A good way to incorporate your statistics is to create a shocking headline, for example, "75% of your employees are suffering from Imposter Syndrome!" or "Wal-Mart averages a profit of $1.8 million every hour."

Another way is to make your statistics memorable is by adding humour to your figures: For example, "There's a 50 per cent chance that your lost remote control is stuck between your sofa cushions. 4 per cent will be found in the fridge or freezer, and 2 per cent will eventually turn up somewhere outdoors or in the car."

3. Spark Curiosity and Ask Your Audience a Question

Our brains are wired to light up when our curiosity is piqued. Try asking a thought-provoking question, for example, if I were to give a presentation on “How to Deliver an Amazing Presentations,” I might consider using the following question: “Did you know that 65% of people are visual learners?

I could also connect the question to my solution: "Did you know 85% of all business presentations are shown on PowerPoint! Which is great for Microsoft but bad for your audience!"

4. Use a compelling image or video.

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words so try using an image or video that encapsulates your message and leads into your presentation. In Derek Siver's, Ted Talk he chooses to show rather than tell his audience, which gets his message across quickly and makes it easy for his audience to visualise and share.

5. Quote an influential person

One of the easiest ways to start a presentation is to quote an influential person. Choose short and relevant quotes from people your audience admires. For example, if

you were giving a presentation on “creativity"

You could use the quote from Albert Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Consider the following methods when introducing your quote: You can

1) include the quote with an image of the person who said the quote

2) Choose an impactful image that illustrates what the quote is about.

3) Use a blank screen to ensure all the attention is on you and just recite the quote.

6. Tell Your Audience What Your Presentation is About

I probably use this technique the most. It's a bit like a content page but with catchy titles or explanations to hook my audience and keep them curious. It's an effective way to let the audience know what to expect and what they will learn and you can refer back to it as your presentation progresses.

Here is a great example from a Ted Talk by Seth Godin: “Today, I’m going to give you four specific examples, I’m going to cover at the end about how a company called Silk tripled their sales; how an artist named Jeff Koons went from being a nobody to making a whole bunch of money and having a lot of impact; to how Frank Gehry redefined what it meant to be an architect. And one of my biggest failures as a marketer in the last few years — a record label I started that had a CD called “Sauce.”


Few things can make or break your presentation as easily as your introduction. With a bit of practice, you can turn these simple tactics into a signature part of your presentation.

What tactics do you use to start a presentation introduction?

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