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How to Start a Presentation

How to Start a Presentation

How to Start a Presentation

How we start our presentations, sets the terms for the rest of the performance.

If we start badly, then it is very difficult to recover. If we start well, then we probably succeed.

So, we must know how to effectively start a presentation, and what to avoid.

How NOT to start a presentation.

1. Do not make Self-deprecating remarks.

Some speakers start by telling the audience how nervous they are, or that they are not very good at making presentations, or that they are "not an expert" on the topic.

All these methods are hopeless, since they undermine the credibility of the speaker.

2. Do not brag.

Some speakers commit the opposite error, by telling their audience how knowledgeable, important and accomplished they are. They do this to build their status, but for most of the audience, it sounds too much like grandstanding and is not the best way to warm-up the audience.

So now we know what NOT to do, let us look at what we should do to effectively start a presentation.

How to start a presentation.

1. Start with a smile.

Even before you say a word, smile at the audience. A warm, open and relaxed smile will put you and your audience in the right mood.

2. Thank the audience, introduce yourself by name and give an approximate timing.

Always thank your audience for being there, since many did not have to come. Give them your name and tell them how long you expect to take. When you set a deadline for the end of your presentation, they all know what to expect, and so will quickly settle.

Then pick one of the following options.

3. Ask an intriguing question.

Asking a question is a terrific way to start a presentation.

I often ask, "We are here today, to answer an important question: How can we get the best performance from ourselves and others?"

The question you ask will depend on the content of your presentation. In politics, you might ask: "What is the fundamental purpose of government?"

In education, you may ask, "What is the meaning of A proper education for our kids?"

If you want a good start to a presentation, then find a way of expressing the theme of your presentation as a question.

The rest of your presentation is dedicated to answering the question you started with.

4. Assert an opinion.

A more daring approach is to make a bold assertion.

"NATO should be disbanded".

"I believe that behaviourist psychology is wrong"

"I believe that Naples is the most beautiful Italian city."

The advantage of making an assertion is that it makes your point crystal clear.

The disadvantage of making an assertion is that you may alienate a portion of the audience in your first sentence.

Whether to start your presentation with an assertion, depends on the topic, the speaker and the audience.

If the topic is right, and you have well researched opinions, and the audience is fair, then making an assertion is often a good way to start your presentation.

5. Tell a story, (or a joke which is related to the topic).

Often, telling a story is a nice way to start a presentation, PROVIDED that the story has relevance to the theme of your presentation.

The story acts as a narrative which leads the listeners into a world where the theme of your presentation has importance.

The story may be a personal anecdote, or it may be a fiction, the important thing is that the story "sets the stage" for the rest of your content.

In relation to telling jokes: Don't tell a joke just to get a cheap laugh. If you tell a joke, then ensure the joke is related to the theme of the presentation.

6. Start with a motivation.

If you want to make your audience pay attention, then you must provide them with a motivation.

In order to motivate your audience, show them how the content of your presentation will either:

  • Help them to achieve pleasurable benefits, and/or
  • Help them to avoid painful consequences.

This method of starting a presentation is in accordance with the "Pleasure-pain theory of motivation".

I usually start with a pain-message and follow-up with a pleasure message.

For instance, I started this blog presentation with such a Pain-Pleasure combination.

Thus: "How we start our presentations, sets the terms for the rest of the performance.

If we start badly, then it is very difficult to recover = PAIN message.

If we start the presentation well, we are likely to succeed = PLEASURE message.


When starting a presentation, to be successful, we avoid using wrong methods:

  • Self-depreciation.
  • Bragging

We use only correct methods:

  • Thank the audience.
  • Give name.
  • Give timings, then:
  • Ask an intriguing question.
  • Assert an opinion.
  • Tell a story.
  • Tell a joke.
  • A Pleasure-Pain motivation.

About the Author: Chris Farmer


Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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