How to Start a Presentation

The way you start a presentation will be determined by your situation. Is it the Monday morning team briefing, the presentation of your research at a global conference or the annual Christmas party? Irrespective of the event, you need to do three things.

  1. Work out who the audience is and what their expectations are.
  2. Decide on what you want your audience to think and do differently at the end of your presentation and
  3. Decide what you want your audience to think about you at the end of the presentation.  That is, think about what impact your presentation will have on your personal brand.

Ok, so once you have conducted your situation analysis, you can then start to think about your opening. Here are just two examples.

Example 1. Formal, good for an audience who likes structure.

Sequence & PurposeExample
Welcome Make people feel comfortable, do any housekeeping, manage expectations and if necessary, establish any credibilityi.“Hello, thank you for our time today my name is……I have a short 20 minute presentation and I’m happy to take any questions along the way”  
Creative (always optional) Tell a short story / relevant joke / show something.  Designed to grab the audience’s attention Must be relevant and usually developed after you have written the rest of the presentation(Project the old woman/young woman image.) “I would like you study this image for me” (wait 5 seconds) then ask “who saw an old woman, who saw a young woman who saw both? This image can be seen in two or more distinct ways and I would like to talk to you about…(transition to next element: topic)
Topic People need to be clear on what you are going to cover“….how the mind interprets events differently”
Objective What’s in it for the audience – why should they listen to you.  This is different to the objective stated in the situational analysis, which is about what you want to achieve.“Out of today’s presentation I would like you to see the value of getting the views of others to help solve problems”
Agenda Give the audience some signposts – where are you going to take them how will the objective you just stated be achieved“We are going to talk about three topics: How we all interpret things differently Why this is a good thing and how we can leverage this in our interactions with each other to get better outcomes

i Have a look at the TED Talk given by Siegfried Woldhek, he builds credibility a little way in, not straight up front as we have suggested here.

Example 2.  Based on Andrew Abela’s SCoRE method. Designed to engage the audience very quickly.

Sequence & PurposeExample
WelcomeThanks everyone, I have a 20 minute presentation and invite discussion as we go.
S. Situation. The occasion for this presentation: something that everyone in your audience will agree on:Our recent employee survey which you have all seen, stated very clearly that we have become very closed to the ideas of others.
Co. Complication. A problem that the audience has  The problem this creates is a lack of communication across departments which results in conflict and as we have seen recently errors that are affecting our bottom line.
R. Resolution Your contribution to solving this problemThe solution I am proposing is to improve our communication by utilising the collaboration Software “Slack”. 
E. Example An illustration of your contributionHere’s an example of what I mean.  Slack helped HubSpot scale its award-winning culture by improving communication and collaboration with Slack.”

This very direct start to the presentation is designed to grab the audience’s attention, wasting no time and driving them to action. What follows the last example is another series of CoREs which identify the audiences problems and addresses them one by one.

How not to start a presentation

Chris Anderson in his book The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, tells a story about how not to start a presentation:

“In the first TED I organized, one of the speakers began, “As I was driving down here wondering what to say to you …” There followed an unfocused list of observations about possible futures. Nothing obnoxious. Nothing that was particularly hard to understand. But also no arguments of power. No revelations. No aha moments. No takeaways. The audience clapped politely. But no one really learned anything.

I was fuming. It’s one thing to underprepare. But to boast that you’ve underprepared? That’s insulting. It tells the audience that their time doesn’t matter. That the event doesn’t matter.”[1]

So think carefully about how you start your presentation and always respect your audience.


[1] Anderson, Chris. TED Talks: The official TED guide to public speaking: Tips and tricks for giving unforgettable speeches and presentations. Hodder & Stoughton. Kindle Edition.

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