Business development · 1 May 2019

How to smash the crucial opening of your presentation

My number one advice when it comes to presentations is to prepare, prepare and prepare! Preparing your slides, your message, your key points and your call to action, familiarising yourself with the venue, organising your files, ensuring your slide deck opens, getting to know your audience, arriving on time is just a few of the things you need to do before you take to the stage.

One mistake many speakers make is they focus mainly (or only) on the key points of their presentation and put less emphasis and little enthusiasm on the opening and conclusion. The opening of your presentation is vital so is how you close! How much time do we have to capture the attention of our audience?

There’s a number of different answers to this question. Some say 7 seconds, some say 9 seconds, others say 30 seconds. An international speaker and good friend Johnny Wimbrey says 60 seconds. It varies from presentation to presentation and it depends on different factors such as length of talk, time of talk, audience voluntariness and speaker.

However, the general rule of thumb is – you do not have long! For the purpose of this article, we’ll go with 7 seconds. You have approximately 7 seconds to grab the attention of your audience so how do we do that?

In this article, I’ll share 5 ways in which you can open to have your audience engaged and interested from the get-go.

1. First I’ll start with my most favourite way – open with a question or a few questions

A simple raise-of-the-hand answer will do or if you’d like people to stand up and share their answers, ask them to do so. There’re 3 reasons why I prefer to open with questions.

Firstly, you’re engaging with the audience from the start. Secondly, you can use questions as on-the-spot research and thirdly, if nerves are an issue, share the platform with your audiences by asking questions.

Remember, the questions need to be relevant to your presentation. I once attended an event that started at 09:00 and the first speaker asked “who’s fully caffeinated here?” and people raised their hands. “Good! Because we’ve got a lot to get through this morning”.

2. Open with a quote that’s relevant to your presentation

If your goal is to motivate, share a motivational quote. If your goal is to educate, share a quote related to what you’re teaching. For example, if you’re delivering a presentation on the benefits of the Montessori Method, sharing a quote by Marie Montessori could be an ideal way to open.

3. A great way to open is to start with a personal story

Sharing stories is an ideal way to connect with people, it allows people to warm up to you and listen to you. The story needs to be relevant to the key message of your presentation. If you do decide to share a story, learn how to tell the story in the shortest time possible highlighting the key points.

I attended an event and one of the speakers shared a story about his life. It was a sad story that lead to a happy end but he dragged the story on for so long that the audience switched off and the impact he was looking for failed.

4. Sharing facts and statistics is an incredible way to open a presentation

Again, it needs to be relevant to what you’ll talk about. You can use the fact or statistic to shock, persuade, motivate or move your audience.

For example, if you’re delivering a presentation on how to succeed in the first year of business, sharing a statistic like “80% of entrepreneurs will fail before reaching the two year mark” would be an ideal way to open. Your audience wants to be amongst the 20% and you will teach them how.

5. Start your presentation with a photograph or a video

As they say, a photograph speaks a thousand words and according to 3M, the guys behind Post-It Notes, visual aids are 65,000 more effective than text alone and according to Social Science Research Network, 65% of people are visual learners. Remember those statistics the next time you’re working on your slide deck.

Danny Faure, president of Seychelles, was recently on the news talking about the issue we’re facing regarding plastic in our oceans. He explained that he was invited to the G7 meeting in Canada and he decided not to make a speech but rather show images of the plastic epidemic. He said, “all of them got a shock”. If you want to make an impact, relevant videos or photographs could touch the nerve you’re looking for.

I have to reiterate that everything you share in your presentation needs to be relevant to your key message otherwise it’ll lead to confusion. If your audience is there to hear you speak on how to pay less tax in your business (legally of course), sharing an irrelevant story or fact could cause your audience to think you’re wasting time.

Once you’ve opened, you then need to spend the rest of the duration of your presentation maintaining the attention you’ve just captured.

You can use the techniques above throughout your presentation as well but if you open with a bang, you’ll enjoy your presentation much more and feel less nervous for the rest of your presentation.

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest from Business Advice.



Hanieh Vidmar is a speaker, trainer and former TV Presenter. She’s delivered pitches on behalf of other companies, won contracts and raised over £1m in funds. Her goal is to help as many people overcome their fears of public speaking so they can achieve bigger and better goals with confidence.