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How to start strong in your next business presentation

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3 Checkpoints to Presentation Success: A Practical Guide to Creating a Clear & Focused Presentation

“Hi my name is Caleb, and today, what I’m going to talk about…”

This feels like a logical way to start, after all, introducing yourself is common courtesy in conversation.

However in presentations, chances are, the audience knows who you are. Someone else would have likely introduced you before you opened your mouth.

It’s important to roadmap informational presentations. But you don’t have to start with a roadmap. You can start from a place of curiosity and discovery.

When starting from a place of curiosity, you can:

  • Start strong in your presentation. Momentum is beautiful thing when you’re speaking – a good start can set the platform for the rest of your content.
  • Leverage the audience’s primacy bias. People will likely remember how a presentation finished, or how it started. Leave a good first impression.
  • Stand out from other presenters. If all other presentations start with pleasantries, your introductions are a point of difference that keep people hooked.

Start with a widely known fact presented unusually

I once started a speech with:

“If every single person in Australia were to spare $2000, we’d pay off this country’s credit card debt.”

We frame our reality with language that attempts to describe events as we see it. The more unusual we can set up a fact, the better it is for our audience to imagine this reality in a new light.

Start with a little known fact

You can also start with an unusual fact, one which many people in your room won’t know about.

Patricia Fripp, professional speaker coach from the USA, was once addressing a convention of pastors at a Seventh Day Adventist convention. She is neither a pastor nor a seventh day adventist, so she wanted to engage them with an intriguing line that piqued their curiosity.

She started:

“65 times in the Bible it says, ‘It came to pass;’ it does not say, ‘It came to stay.’ If your sermons are not well structured, artfully crafted, and charismatically delivered they will not come to stay in the hearts, minds and lives of your congregation.”

Start with an intriguing question, then pause…

Going back to my speech, I could have started with:

“How much can you do with $2000?”

When the presenters starts by asking questions, we can’t help but attempt to answer them in our minds, even if they are hypothetical.

You don’t have to start speeches with questions, in fact, sprinkling meaningful questions (and pausing) throughout your presentation is a sure fire way to engage in a ‘silent’ dialogue with your audience.

Start with setting the scenes of your story

I’m inspired by the way the first episode of Lost starts.

Take a moment to watch the first 2 minutes. Then, take note of the questions you are asking.

  • Why is lying on the ground with a business suit on?
  • Why does his face have scratches?
  • Where did the dog come from?
  • For what reason does he take out the bottle of liquor from his jacket pocket?
  • Why is there a Dunlop Volley hanging from a branch?

Not all of us have the benefit of a film crew to set the scene for our stories. However, we can describe them vividly to our audience.

In the movie industry, they call this the flavour scene.

“It’s 1997, warm summer’s morning at Mandurah Estuary. Dad and I dressed in our fishing gear. Pristine. Clear blue ocean. It’s a perfect day for herring. First cast into the water…”

Beware though. Drag this on for too long, and people start losing interest. The stronger the mystery, the stronger the point of the story needs to land.

Tips to make it work:

  • Rehearse. You don’t have to know how every line of your speech word for word, however rehearsing your opening lines help you to start with impact come the big day.
  • Record your rehearsal, at least with audio. That way you can judge for yourself if you think the opening may have enough intrigue. 
  • Get specific ‘feed forward’ from someone else before you present.
  • And on the big day, don’t look down at your notes – introductions are an opportunity to make excellent and meaningful eye contact to help establish connection and rapport.

Consider the way you start to make your content interesting for your audience. By introducing a fact unusually, or presenting an unusual fact, we can surprise our audiences. By starting with an intriguing question or setting the scene of your story, you would have set up an intriguing platform to launch the rest of your presentation.

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