2 minute read

The Four Elements of a Successful Presentation Opening


Can you recall a time when you were at a conference, in a breakout session, and you realized within the first two minutes that this was going to be a boring presentation? What did you do? Did you pull out your phone and catch up on Twitter®? Did you look for a back door so you could sneak out? Or did you think, “I’d better stay … after all, I am the presenter.”

A powerful presentation opening makes the difference between having an engaged audience or a disconnected one.

When planning an opening for your next presentation, remember the four elements of a good opening. Your opening should:

  1. Break preoccupation
  2. Grab your audience’s attention
  3. Set the tone for your presentation
  4. Lead into your topic

Break Preoccupation

When audience members enter a presentation room, they may be focused on several different things. “Am I in the right room?” “Do I need to take notes?” “Did I leave the iron on?” As a presenter, you want to break this preoccupation. Opening with your name or a “good morning” will not do it. Open in a way that makes your audience want to listen to you.

Grab Your Audience’s Attention

Grab your audience’s attention by opening your presentation one of several ways: a story, a show of hands, a visual or prop, an outrageous or provocative statement, a rhetorical question, or a quote. Choose an opening that you can present with confidence, and that suits your speaking style.

Set the Tone for Your Presentation

Your opening should set the tone for your presentation. If there are no quotes in your presentation, do not open with a quote; choose another method. If your presentation is light-hearted and fun, open your presentation in that manner. Your opening should be a seamless part of your presentation. 

Lead Into Your Topic

Finally, your opening should lead into your topic. If you are speaking about identity theft, don’t open with a story about your cat … unless she stole your identity. Tell a relatable story about identity theft that leads into the topic and your presentation.

People always ask me, “Can I open with a joke?” My short answer is that I don’t recommend it. That said, you can open with something funny, as longs as it meets all four elements of an opening and it will not set you back if you don’t get a laugh. Let me explain. I recently opened a presentation with the first paragraph in this article. I was fortunate that it got a laugh. But, had it not gotten a laugh, it still makes sense, and it would not set me back. The last line was not placed specifically for a laugh, but rather to get my audience to think about preparing a good opening for their next presentation.

When planning your next presentation, prepare a good opening that breaks preoccupation, grabs the audience’s attention, sets the tone for your presentation, and leads into your topic. You, and your audience, will be glad you did. Good luck!

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