Openers really matter.
Because openers determine if people are going to bother listening to what you have to present.
More importantly: openers set the tone to an entire presentation; they influence exactly how people (i.e. a presentation audience) interpret what you have to say, and how they’ll end up remembering it.
And I don’t need a fancy study to give you proof of this. In fact, you practice this logic every single day when you:
- Scroll through your social media feed and tap on the links with headlines that capture your attention immediately
- Glance over an article’s headline and see if its relevant to you
- Can tell if someone who you just met is a complete jerk within the first 30 seconds of meeting him
Yeah. Openers really do matter, don’t they?
So apply that importance in all your upcoming presentations, and follow a winning strategy to start a presentation like an absolute boss.
How do you start a presentation with a winning strategy, you ask?
Confidence, gratitude, and hooks, in that order.
Show your confidence like you own the room
Before even saying a word, work on how you portray yourself on stage. This part largely lies on how you use body language.
When you start a presentation, you need to have a stature that exudes confidence. I’m talking about people looking at you like you’re about to get into a boxing match with a bear.
Start with your posture: make sure you stand up straight and your shoulders fall slightly back. If you’ve been slouching all your life, then it’s going to get some time to get used to. But really, this act alone goes a long way.
Keep your hands where people can see them. If you’re tempted to keep your hands in your pockets, or behind your back, then don’t. Also, don’t fidget on things. These instincts do portray that you’re uncomfortable and/or nervous with your surroundings. Don’t be. Keep your hands as steady as a sailboat on a sunny day. You own that room.
Finally, walk with grace. Don’t be a weakling and take little bunny hops when you’re on stage. Pay attention to the way you walk, and make big strides with your steps.
But don’t over do it.
There’s always a limit to things in life, and confidence is one of them.
Starting a presentation by exhibiting confidence is great and all, but you don’t want to look like Derek Zoolander when you walk on stage, do you?
Be humble and express your gratitude to your audience
You are absolutely a force to be reckoned with when you’re on stage.
But you’re NOT too good for your audience.
Remember, your audience took the time to come out, sit down, and watch you present whatever it is you want to communicate. Time is a pretty sacred resource in all aspects of life, and that logic holds merit in the context of presentations.
No matter how big you think you are, do not overlook the presence of your audience.
Take the time to thank your audience for being present in the room, but be brief about it. You can express that gratitude in a sentence, tops.
Some examples on how you can express your gratitude:
- “Thank you for coming.”
- “Appreciate you all for being here today.”
- “I’d like to thank you all for taking the time to listen to my presentation.”
Common sense? Maybe. But a lot of presenters (even the good ones) tend to forget this. Remember, your presentation isn’t for you – it’s for your audience.
Hook ‘em in!
You’ve got your presentation swagger with your audience.
You’ve thanked them all for coming.
Now comes the most important step in the entire process.
To start off your presentation like a pro, you need to hook them in like a free sample at the grocery store.
I understand that this sort of step can be complicated, but in an effort to ease the entire learning process, let’s start off with a bad example of how people “hook their audience in.”
Most presenters go with something along the lines of:
“Today, I’m going to be talking to you about A B C”
“In this presentation, I’m going to be going into how X Y Z impacts us a society.”
These aren’t hooks.
The presenter started off with answering what we’re going to listen to, and not why the presenter is there in the first place.
Listen: an audience is more than likely going to be aware of what it is you’re going to dive into. Speaker programs, agendas, emails, word-of-mouth — all of these things give context to whatever it is you’re going to say. And even if they don’t, you’re going to dedicate the entire time that is set to the topic anyway. There’s no point.
Start with why you’re here.
Why are you here to talk about your topic?
Why is your topic of importance in the eyes of your audience?
These answers need to be given after you’ve expressed your gratitude because it sets the tone of your entire talk.
Incredible hooks you can use to start your presentation
Hooks come in all forms, shapes and sizes, but really, they come down to a single form of structure that works quite well: stories.
Yes, tell a story.
Okay, don’t groan at me. There’s a little more depth to this.
Your favorite articles, books, movies, shows, and past memories all have one thing in common: they tell a good story. They’re all about building a narrative to the context of your presentation.
Effective forms of stories include:
- Quoting someone: quotes are a great way to get going, because they do all the work for you. All you have to do is state a quote and then relate the context of your talk.
- Illustrating a life event: did something happen to you or someone you know? Is it emotionally moving? Is it relevant to your talk? If yes, then tell your audience about it.
- Talking about a problem: if there’s a problem that your audience may be facing, and you can illustrate with a story, it may be instrumental in hooking them in.
- Telling a joke: humor is an awesome way to get the audience in a light-hearted mood. Just make sure the joke you’re telling is relevant and funny – there’s nothing worse than piercing silence after a punchline.
If you need some inspiration, you can watch one of my all-time favorite speakers, Tim Urban, do his thing at a TED Talk in 2016.
I want you to be really focused in on how his story engages his audience. He paced his humor so perfectly the audience was listening to every word, and laughing at every punchline.
Start your presentation with three steps
Remember, it’s about confidence, gratitude, and hooks. In that order. If you follow that strategy, you’re going to kill it!