How to Make an Impact: The Start of your Presentation

We all know that people form judgments about us within the first few seconds of meeting us.  The same is true for presentations.  

If you don’t capture your audience’s attention at the outset, you risk losing them before you’ve begun.  So how can you make an impact in those crucial first few seconds of your talk?  

Start with a bang

The first few seconds of your presentation are critical, so don’t waste them.  To make an impact in your presentations, start with a bang.  Grab your audience’s attention with a surprising statistic, an intriguing question, or a powerful quote.  For example, imagine you’re giving a talk on health and safety and you open with, “By the time I’ve finished this presentation, 100 people somewhere in the world will have died from an industrial injury.”  Or “Why is it that we care more about our employees’ timekeeping than we do about their mental health?” 

Be bold.  Surprise your audience.  Build anticipation.  Make them curious about what comes next.

Tell a story

People love stories, and they’re a great way to engage your audience emotionally.  The late CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs, famously gave a speech at Stanford University which he opened by simply saying, “Today I’m going to tell you three stories from my life.  That’s it.  No big deal.  Just three stories.”   You could sense his student audience instantly relaxing and giving him their full attention. 

The most powerful stories are personal, drawn from your own experience, because they’re the best way to make an emotional connection with your audience. A story is a powerful way to make an impact at the start of your presentation.

Use a striking visual

Instead of starting your presentation with a PowerPoint slide full of bullet points, use the first 60 seconds to show an arresting visual that brings to life your main theme.  For example, imagine you’re giving a talk on the impact of your business on the climate: why not start by putting up a photo of a seal swimming through a sea of floating plastic, or a polar bear standing on a melting ice floe.

They say a picture paints a thousand words.  That’s a thousand words less for you to say – and an even greater impact. 

Interact with your audience

You want to make your audience feel like they’re a part of your presentation, not just passive listeners.  So why not make an impact in your presentation by asking a provocative question and polling them?  

For example, if you’re giving a talk on customer satisfaction, you could start by asking how many in the audience have had a bad experience with a company in the past year.  Ask them to raise their hands – or better still, stand up.  Then poll that group again: “How many of those standing would never deal with that particular company again?”  It makes them feel involved, gets them thinking about the main point of your presentation – and brings energy to the room.

State your main point

A well-planned presentation has a clear, distinctive theme or takeaway.  It may also have a specific call to action.  Make sure your main point isn’t buried on slide 12.  Bring it right up front, make an impact and make it memorable. 

For example, imagine you’re giving a talk on health and welfare in your company.  Why not open with the simple statement, “By the end of this presentation, everyone in this room will be making a choice about whether or not they want to live longer.”   Not only does it set a crystal-clear agenda for your talk, but it also demands a reaction – and action – from your audience, right from the outset.

Be enthusiastic!

If you’re an unenthusiastic presenter, you can’t blame your audience for being unenthusiastic listeners.  If you look bored, they’ll feel bored.  If you’re low energy, you’ll drain the room of energy.  It’s vital that you show in those first few seconds that you’re passionate about your topic, that it’s important to you, that you believe what you’re saying. 

To make an impact: smile, make eye contact, use a strong and confident voice.  Your enthusiasm will be contagious – and it will help you carry your audience with you. 

In short

You’ll set yourself up for success or failure in those crucial first 60 seconds.  So don’t waste them. 

Think about how you’re going to capture your audience’s attention – and imagination – with your opening.  How are you going to engage and involve them?  How are you going to build anticipation?  What kind of tone will you set for the rest of your talk?  Remember: your audience will be sizing you up in that very first minute.  Use it well.

Contact us for a free consultation on your training needs

About Benjamin Ball Associates

At Benjamin Ball Associates, we help our clients to communicate better. You get presentation coaching for executives.

Over 15+ years the award-winning BBA team has coached thousands of senior executives globally to present powerfully. You get access to a transformational toolbox of presentation skills & techniques to help you become a clear, confident communicator.

We’ll help you create a powerful first impression that hooks and engages your audience immediately, and we’ll transform you to deliver clearly, confidently and with impact.

Speak to Louise on +44 20 7018 0922 or email to find out more and discuss your upcoming speech or presentation.

Contact us for a free consultation on your training needs

Contact us for a chat about how we can help you with your presenting.

Let's talk about your presentation training needs

Contact us for a chat about how we can help you with your presenting.

+44 20 7018 0922

Our Bespoke Presentation Coaching Services

Executive Presentation Coaching

Executive Media Training

New Business Pitch Coaching