Nine Ways to Open Your Presentation

By Lou Solomon

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Last week I wrote about preparing for your next big presentation a full month BEFORE you take the podium.  Today’s post picks up from the point that you’ve thanked the person who introduced you at the podium.

Your opening lines

Here, the attention in the room is high. Don’t rush to speak. Once you arrive at the front of the room, pause for just a moment. You will appear collected and confident and we will lean in to hear your first words.  The audience forms a first impression and makes a value judgment of you and your message in this skinny minute. 

Your opening sets the tone and expectation of your entire presentation. Lackluster public speakers squander the open by saying something like, “Um, good morning—I’m so excited to be here.  Um, I’d like to thank so-and-so and so-and-so.”  Listeners hear this gobbly goop as a replay of all the bad talks they’ve had to endure. Immediately the
level in the room begins to slip. 

Nine ways to open your presentation

Jump right in to your speech with something unexpected and interesting. There is an infinite number of ways to open your presentation or keynote. Here are just nine of them:

1. The name of someone central to the message

2. Important date, what was going on at the time

3. Provocative Question

4. Short, pithy quote

5. Story, Anecdote

6. Startling Statement or Statistic

7. Theme (that will be repeated throughout the talk)

8. Personal Association

9. Imagine/Painted Picture

My favorite examples for opening

1. Grabber

“Okay, now I don’t want to alarm anybody in this room, but it’s just come to my attention that the person to your right is a liar. Also, the person to your left is a liar. Also the person sitting in your very seats is a liar. We’re all liars.”—Pamela Meyers TED Talk

2. Quote

Mark Twain said, “Take out your brain and jump on it. It gets all caked up!”

Dramatic Statement

“Sadly, in the next 18 minutes when I do our chat, four Americans that are alive will be dead from the food that they eat.” –Jamie Oliver TED Talk

Personal story

Before you begin your keynote, pause. Take a breath.“Truth be told, I never graduated from college, and this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today, I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it, no big deal—just three stories. The first story is about connecting the dots. I dropped out of Reed College after the first six months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another eighteen months or so before I really quit. So why’d I drop out? It started before I was born.” —Steve Jobs, 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford University

Rhetorical question

“Next Tuesday is Election Day. Next Tuesday all of you will go to the polls, will stand there in the polling place and make a decision. I think when you make that decision, it might be well if you would ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago? – Ronald Reagan, 1980.

Establish a theme (repeated throughout)

“If Martin Luther King were to reappear by my side today and give us a report card on the last 25 years, what would he say?'” —Bill Clinton, 1993 speech in Memphis

Last advice:  Look for opportunities to speak. Successive successful experiences will give you the grit and creativity to “Open and close well, and not screw it up in between.

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