How to start a speech or presentation – 4 great ways

How do you start a speech or presentation with impact?

Think how you typically start a speech or presentation. 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…

If you do this, you are wasting the most important part of your speech or presentation.

Why? Because audiences form an impression within seconds. They quickly decide whether or not to pay attention.

That’s why it’s so important to hook your audience immediately.  And as a leader, great communication skills are vitally important. In addition, psychologists have demonstrated 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.

Instead, use one of our recommended four ways to start your talk:

Break the bad habit of bad beginnings.

1. Tell a story

2. Ask a question

3. Describe a scenario

4. Do something unexpected

How to start a speech or presentation – 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 talk.

Watch this technique in action: See how designer Danit Peleg starts off her speech with a short anecdote that sets the scene.

How to start your talk - Danit Peleg Ted Talk

How to start a speech or presentation – Option 2: Ask a question

This could be 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 talk will address.  Work with your coach to find the best technique for you. Read our article on using powerful language in your talks.

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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 - Raymond Wang TED Talk

How to start a speech or presentation – 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:

  1. Give an everyday example.
  2. Get the audience to consider their own viewpoint
  3. 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 talk or presentation - regina hartley ted talk

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 coach can help find a way for your talk to stand out?

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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.

world champion public speaking starting speech

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

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First, download our free ebook to start your journey towards becoming a Powerful Presenter.

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Do you need help with a speech or presentation?

At Benjamin Ball Associates we help you create a powerful talks with powerful first impressions. And we’ll coach you to deliver clearly, confidently and with impact.

You can get immediate improvements via Zoom coaching.  From just £395 per hour.

Call Louise on + 44 20 7018 0922 or email louise@benjaminball.com

Find out more and discuss your upcoming speech or presentation. 

We will help you become much better at public speaking.

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Further resources to improve your public speaking

How to improve your presenting skills

How to use stories in your business presentations

How to become a confident presenter

How to speak like a leader

How to present to international multi-lingual audiences

How to use good body language in your talks

Logos Ethos Pathos – how to use the persuasive three appeals

How to choose a public speaking skills coach

How to pitch for new business

How to get rid of verbal ticks umms and errs

How to create a great pitch book

Analysis of Bob Geldof as a speaker

Public speaking tips

How to talk like TED

Transform your public speaking body language

Presentation skills coaching course

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About Benjamin Ball Associates

Benjamin Ball Associates Team

At Benjamin Ball Associates, we help clients to pitch, present & persuade.

Over the last 12+ years the award-winning BBA team has supported thousands of executives globally to present powerfully. You get access to a transformational toolbox of 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 louise@benjaminball.com to find out more and discuss your upcoming talk or presentation.

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