I remember the day clearly. I was working as a Marketing Director for a large publishing company, and I was about to give my first quarterly marketing presentation to the entire sales team. Sales reps flew from all over the country for this event so it was kind of a big deal. I was just a few weeks on the job and this was my one big moment to impress as many people as possible and set the right first impression.
I just wish the presentation went the way I intended because it clearly didn’t achieve that objective. I absolutely fumbled the beginning. I wasted an entire minute wandering aimlessly and not providing any clear direction for my audience. It was terrible.
The audience was disinterested. They were checked out. Even I had lost interest in my subject matter – all because of an awful start.
I vowed that day – no more. No more under preparing. No more winging it. No more. Period. I was going to master how I start my presentations.
So, I did the research. I read the books. I studied the masters. And, here are the five proven techniques I uncovered to anyone open any presentation strong.
Start with a story
I love hearing evidence in any presentation because when you share facts and stats they build your credibility and validates you as the expert. However, when it becomes your only mechanism for presenting, it can quickly become crippling and that is where the importance of storytelling comes into play. Audiences love the research but they crave stories even more so. It’s how we connect and communicate as human beings. Here’s the evidence: when you only share facts and stats with your audience, you are either going to receive agreement or disagreement. If your audience agrees with you, they will be taking notes and hanging on to every word. If they disagree with you, you’ll soon find a wall up between you and the audience. But, if you tell a story, you get participation and that is golden.
I’ll give you an example. If I was to start a presentation by sharing that I am training for a marathon, are you going to agree or disagree with me. Neither. You are going to participate with me. Perhaps you also trained and completed a marathon? If not you, maybe your spouse did or your sibling or close friend? Either way, you have context and something to relate to as I share my marathon journey. That’s the power of a story.
Be prospective or retrospective
This above heading is just a fancy way of saying look to the future or look to the past. This is one of my favorite techniques because it gets your audience invested by making your opening relatable. I’ll give you an example for both.
Prospective: You’ll want to paint the future for your audience by using a key opening statement and that will really be powerful and resonate with them. A strong example of this would be an opening line like: “30 years from now, your job will not exist.” Now, you have there attention and they want to learn more.
Retrospective: With this approach, you’ll want to do the opposite and focus on the past but use it in such a way to state something alarming as to draw attention. Here’s an example: “In 1983, China owned 9% of the market. Today, they own 32%.” Again, it’s another shocking statistic by simply looking to the past.
This tactic is probably the easiest of this batch to create and implement. All you need to do is simple: quote someone. Let’s say you were going to give a talk about resilience and fortitude. This would create a great opportunity to quote someone like Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, or even a modern thought leader like Tony Robbins. You’ll simply want to open with the quote before you say anything else. Let’s use one of the above as an example:
Good morning, everyone! Henry Ford once said “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”
It’s that simple. You’ll immediately sound credible, researched, and look credible on subject matter. It will then be your responsibility to maintain it.
Starting a presentation strong is absolutely critical since it allows you take control, build trust with your audience, and secure their confidence in you that you will steer the conversation in the right direction. It takes practice but with a little bit of discipline you should start looking like a presentation master the next time you are in front of a room.