Five Powerful Ways to Open Your Next Presentation

“Good morning. I was asked to speak about the top five issues associated with Supply Chain Risk Management.”

Wow. I am on the edge of my seat, are you?

Probably not. Whether Supply Chain Management is your hot button or not, that opening did not pique your interest. It was a boring and unimaginative way to begin a presentation.

You do not have to begin a presentation like the one mentioned above. You do not have to start a presentation with your name, title and company. Chances are that information is already on the agenda or in the program.

Wouldn’t you prefer to kick off your speech in a manner that fully engages the listener and gets them eagerly awaiting the next words out of your mouth? You can. But it takes creativity and a little risk.

The following are five approaches to begin your next talk:

1. Ask a question. It can be thought provoking or it can be a question with an obvious answer. Your challenge is to find the RIGHT question that will make an audience look forward to what comes next.

2. Share a quotation. It may be a quote from the CEO of your company or a famous sports figure. It could be your own quote. Martin Luther King used the quotation over and over, “I have a dream…” in his well-known speech by the same name. It was a brilliant use of his own words, stated frequently enough that it has become a world-famous quote and the title of his speech. The quotation should create an emotion. It should apply to your topic in a way the audience would not have imagined on their own.

3. Tell a story. The best story is a personal one….one you have lived. The story should be concise with only enough detail to make your point. The point should tie into your talk. You should spend several hours crafting the story and practicing with the delivery of the story. It is that important.

4. Utilize a shocking or surprising statistic. Shocking is the key word. Statistics make the listener’s ear perk up because he or she is curious. I had a client recently who started his speech with saying “21.” He asked the audience “ What’s significant about the number 21?” The speech was concerning a safety issue in his plant. After the audience shared some humorous and not so humorous connections to that number the speaker shared that it had been 21 years since his plant had experienced an ice storm. The point was that his plant employees were not accustomed to wearing personal protective equipment for ice. He had the attention of his entire audience.

5. Consider how an example from art, music, literature, or history might serve to open your talk. I scanned a charcoal drawing that a client created (with his permission) and included it as the opening slide in a presentation. The drawing is different. It is almost scary. The drawing depicts the way the artist has viewed himself for years. He is a person who stutters. Verbal communication is a harsh challenge for him. We are a society who places high value on verbal communication. I use it because of the “surprise” factor and it tells a story that juxtaposes the freedom with which most of us express ourselves with words versus how it feels to struggle with every word you produce.

Take the challenge. The next time you present information to an audience design an opening that grabs your audience immediately. You will enjoy the reaction.