How to Start a Speech or Presentation – 2023 update
January 13, 2023
How do you start a speech or begin a presentation with impact?
Think how you typically start a business presentation, speech or talk. Do you begin with any of these lines?
– Hi, my name is … and I’m here to talk about…
– Before I start, I want to introduce myself…
– Thank you all for coming, I’m really pleased to be here…
None of these are famous speech opening lines. In fact, if you start your presentation like this, you are wasting the most important part of your presentation.
Why? Because audiences judge you within seconds. They quickly decide whether or not to listen.That’s why it’s so important to hook your audience at the start of your speech – immediately.
And as a business leader, great communication skills are vitally important. In addition, psychologists have shown us a phenomenon known as the primacy effect. Your audience is more likely to remember the first bits of information they hear. Working with a speech writer/coach can help you make the impact you want when you begin a speech.
Instead of the old boring start, use one of our recommended four best ways to start a speech:
Break the bad habit of bad beginnings.
How to start your presentation or speech – Option 1: Tell a story
Is there a short relevant anecdote that you could open with? If you can, use a local or topical angle. Your audience will then know that you have tailored your talk for them. This will help to keep things fresh for you, particularly if you are delivering the same talk or presentation several times.
Or perhaps you could keep your audience in suspense with this one simple trick:
- Start a story at the beginning of your speech or presentation.
- Go into the main part of your talk
- Go back to and conclude your story near the end of your presentation.
Watch this technique in action: See how designer Danit Peleg starts a speech with a story that sets the scene.
How to start a speech or presentation – Option 2: Ask a question
You could start your presentation with a question – a rhetorical question to make the audience think, or it could involve asking the audience to respond, usually by raising their hands if something applies to them.
Alternatively, you could set out the question that your presentation will address. Work with your coach to find the best technique for you. Read our article on using powerful language in your talks.
Watch this technique in action: Here’s how 17 year-old Raymond Wang – winner of the 2015 Intel Science and Engineering Fair top prize – uses the question technique to start his TED talk.
How to start a presentation or talk – Option 3: Describe a scenario
This technique blends the first two approaches. You set a scene and then prompt the audience to imagine what they would do or think in those circumstances. Scenarios are an effective way of demonstrating the relevance of abstract topics to the lives of the audience.
To use this technique:
- Give an everyday example.
- Get the audience to consider their own viewpoint
- Then set out to change or challenge it.
Watch this technique in action: See UPS’s Human Resource Manager, Regina Hartley, begin her presentation by setting out a scenario.
How to start a speech or presentation – Option 4: Do something unexpected
Will your audience have certain expectations about you or your talk, before you begin?
In this case, start with something unexpected – or even shocking – to make them reconsider their preconceived ideas. The way you do this needs to be relevant to avoid being gimmicky. When done well, it can be memorable, potentially humorous and even remarkable – with audience members sharing and reliving their reactions afterwards. Perhaps your presentation skills coach can help find a way for your talk to stand out?
Watch this technique in action: Our final example is Mohammed Qahtani, the winner of the 2015 Toastmasters Championship. Watch how he starts his thought provoking speech on the power of words.
Of course, most people who speak well will have worked with a coach at some point. If you need help choosing a great public speaking coach, read our guide to choosing a public speaking coach
How to Start a Presentation in Business
How do you start a business presentation? When presenting, the first few seconds of your talk are the most important.
You can win, or lose, your audience within the first 10 seconds. Learn how to start a presentation powerfully. Structuring an opening that grabs attention and sets the scene means the audience will be with you all the way.
Grab attention to start a business presentation
First impressions matter. Before you start speaking, your audience will be on your side. They want to hear what you have to say and are interested in your views. You job is to meet their expectations. You can do this by seizing their interest from the beginning. If you are talking to a group about a new idea coming from your division, make sure what you say up front will be interesting to the audience.
For example “By adopting this new process, your division can save 6 hours per day” will be much more effective than “Today I’m going to tell you about a new process we have been trying in our division”. If you can show from the beginning how your audience can benefit from listening further, then your opening will work.
Create anticipation when you start your presentation
The point of the start of your business presentation is to create interest for the next thing you are going to say. Being slightly enigmatic is often a good approach. For example, opening with a question such as “Do you want to know how you can save money and lose weight? I’ll show you how.” Will automatically get people on the edge of their chairs listening for the answer to your question.
Set the scene when you start your presentation
You want to get to the point in your first line. Don’t be vague and imprecise; be clear and full of impact. Think of stating a news headline: your opening should be short and precise. It should summarise the story and leave you wanting to know more. So, to summarise, if you can grab attention, set the scene and create anticipation, then your opening is going to help you start your presentation with impact.
How to start a business presentation
Tips on how to start your next business presentation
Do you need help with a speech or presentation?
At Benjamin Ball Associates we help you build your presentation skills so you can create and deliver powerful talks and presentations.
We work face-to-face and via video conference.
Call Louise on + 44 20 7018 0922 or email email@example.com
Find out more and discuss your upcoming speech or presentation. We will help you become much better with public speaking coaching.
Further resources to improve your public speaking
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more and discuss transforming your speeches, pitches and presentations.
Contact us for a chat about how we can help you with your presenting.
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