How to Start a Presentation [+ Examples]

How to Start a Presentation with Impact in 2024 [Examples + Best Practices]

The first 60 seconds of your presentation are crucial. That‘s the amount of time you have to capture your audience‘s attention, establish your credibility, and convince them that your presentation is worth their time.

But crafting the perfect presentation opening is easier said than done. Many presenters struggle with those first few minutes, defaulting to overused greetings like "Hello everyone, thank you for being here today" or stumbling through their introduction in a way that fails to build confidence.

If you want to deliver presentations that inspire, persuade, and drive people to action in 2024 and beyond, it‘s essential to master the art of the presentation opening. In this post, we‘ll share proven strategies and examples to help you do exactly that.

How to Craft an Engaging Presentation Opening
There are many ways to start a presentation, but not all openings are created equal. Here are a few approaches that are proven to pique your audience‘s interest:

  1. Tell a story
    Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools in a presenter‘s arsenal. When you share a story, you engage your audience‘s emotions and imagination. Your story could be a personal anecdote that‘s relevant to your topic, a case study about a brand or individual, or even a hypothetical scenario that illustrates a point.

The key is to choose a story aligned with your core message and to craft it using storytelling best practices like establishing characters, setting a scene, and building to a climax or "aha" moment.

  1. Ask a thought-provoking question
    Posing a question to your audience is an effective way to get them thinking and engaged right from the start. Your question could challenge a common assumption, point out a surprising trend or statistic, or tap into a pain point or aspiration.

For example, in a presentation about the future of work, you might ask: "What would you do with an extra 10 hours per week?" Craft your question to elicit curiosity and prime your audience for the information you‘re about to share.

  1. Share an interesting fact or statistic
    Numbers are a great way to add credibility and concreteness to your presentation opening. When you share a surprising fact or data point right off the bat, you signal to your audience that you‘ve done your research and have valuable information to share.

Imagine a presentation about the rise of artificial intelligence. An opening like "Did you know that 85% of Americans already use AI every single day?" is sure to make your audience sit up and take note. Just be sure to use specific, credible numbers rather than vague statements.

  1. Use humor
    Humor, when used appropriately, is a fantastic way to break the ice and get your audience relaxed and receptive. A well-placed joke or funny observation related to your topic can endear you to your audience and make your presentation more memorable.

The key is to use humor that is inoffensive, relevant, and natural for your personal style. A bit of self-deprecating humor or gentle teasing of a common foil (like "engineers are from Mars, marketers are from Venus") can work well. When in doubt, err on the side of caution to avoid falling flat.

  1. Deliver a powerful quote
    Starting with a quote is a bit of a presentation cliché, but it can still be impactful when done well. The key is to choose a quote that is unique, thought-provoking, and directly relevant to your topic. Avoid overused quotes or generic inspirational statements.

Importantly, use the quote as a springboard for your own insight rather than just a stand-in for substance. For example, don‘t just recite the quote and then say "So true, right?" Explain why you chose it and how it relates to your message.

Real-World Examples of Effective Presentation Openings
To help you visualize these strategies in action, let‘s look at some examples from real presentations.

  1. "Unleash the Power of Empathy" by Michael Ventura
    This presentation about using empathy in design begins with a story about the presenter‘s childhood experience with a bully. He paints a vivid scene and shares his emotions, then explains how that experience taught him about the transformative power of empathy. This story hooks the audience and makes the abstract concept of empathy relatable.

  2. "The Future of Work: Adapting to an Accelerated Timeline" by Diana Dosik
    In a presentation on remote work, Diana starts with a question: "When you think about the future of work, what concerns you most?" She gives the audience a moment to reflect, then reveals an insight from her firm‘s research on executive sentiment. This question primes the audience to engage with her data and ideas.

  3. "The AI-ssistant in Your Pocket" by Maurice Conti
    Maurice‘s presentation about the rise of AI opens with a surprising statistic: "The average American checks their phone 96 times per day. That‘s once every 10 minutes during your waking hours." He uses this statistic to lead into his core argument about the ubiquity and embedded nature of artificial intelligence in our daily lives.

  4. "Find Your Voice, Grow Your Reach" by Laura Belgray
    In this presentation for entrepreneurs, Laura leverages humor throughout but especially in her opening. She starts by poking fun at the idea of a "personal brand," saying that the term evokes images of branding cattle. This gets a laugh while also building rapport with her audience of entrepreneurs who‘ve likely heard that term many times.

  5. "The New Leadership Playbook" by Carla Harris
    Carla begins her presentation on modern leadership with a quote from Heraclitus: "Change is the only constant in life." She then explains why this ancient quote is as relevant as ever in the fast-paced business world, and uses it as a jumping-off point to discuss the new skills and mindsets leaders need to thrive. This quote adds gravitas and timelessness to her message.

Introducing Yourself and Building Credibility
Once you‘ve captured your audience‘s attention with your opening, you‘ll need to introduce yourself in a way that establishes your credibility without coming across as boastful. Here are a few tips:

  • Focus on your audience: Frame your introduction in terms of how your background and expertise will benefit them. What unique insights can you share based on your experiences?

  • Be specific: Don‘t just rattle off your job titles. Share concrete details about projects you‘ve worked on or results you‘ve achieved that are relevant to your presentation topic.

  • Highlight others: If you‘re presenting on behalf of your team or company, be sure to credit them as well. This shows humility and team orientation.

  • Keep it brief: Aim for 30-60 seconds. Remember, your audience is here for your insights, not your life story.

Here‘s an example of an effective presentation introduction:
"Hi everyone, I‘m excited to share some insights with you today about the future of digital marketing. A bit about me: I‘ve spent the last decade working with brands like Nike, Glossier, and Apple to craft digital campaigns that not only drive sales but build long-term brand love and loyalty. I geek out about things like customer segmentation and multi-touch attribution models. But don‘t worry, I promise not to bore you with marketing jargon. My goal today is to share some practical strategies that you can take back to your companies and implement right away to boost your marketing ROI."

Strategies for Hooking Your Audience
A strong presentation opening captures attention, but a great one also whets your audience‘s appetite for the information to come. Here‘s how to keep them hooked:

  1. Preview your key points
    Providing a high-level roadmap of your presentation gives your audience a sense of its scope and helps them follow along. Avoid a boring agenda slide. Instead, tease the transformation or learning they‘ll gain from each section.

For example: "We‘ll start by diagnosing the most common pitfalls of modern performance reviews. Then, I‘ll share a 3-step framework for turning reviews from a dreaded chore into an energizing growth opportunity. Finally, we‘ll explore some ways to use technology to streamline the process without losing the human touch."

  1. Explain the value to your audience
    Audiences are always asking "What‘s in it for me?" Make that crystal clear upfront by explicitly stating how your presentation will benefit them. Will it help them solve a problem, capitalize on an opportunity, or expand their perspective?

For instance, if you‘re giving a talk on diversity and inclusion, you might say something like: "By the end of this session, you‘ll walk away with three actionable strategies for attracting and retaining diverse talent, building inclusive teams, and leveraging D&I to drive innovation and results for your company."

  1. Tease the destination
    Great presentation openings create a gap between where the audience is now and where they‘ll be by the end. Describe an aspirational future state that your presentation will help them achieve.

Imagine a talk on customer experience. You could say: "Picture a world where your customers aren‘t just satisfied but truly delighted. Where they‘re raving about your brand to their friends and coming back again and again. In the next 30 minutes, I‘m going to show you how to make that vision a reality."

Designing Compelling Opening Slides
Your slides play a big role in setting the tone for your presentation. Follow these guidelines to design opening slides that complement and reinforce your message:

  1. Minimize text, maximize visuals
    Avoid cramming your slides full of text, especially on your opening slide. Aim for a striking visual that creates an emotional response and supports your verbal opening. A single, powerful image or a clean, bold graphic works well.

  2. Evoke the right emotions
    The visuals you choose should align with the tone of your opening. If you‘re beginning with humor, a funny (but not cheesy) image can work well. For a more serious or inspirational opening, look for images that are aspirational or thought-provoking.

  3. Ensure brand alignment
    Your slides are an extension of your brand. Use your company‘s fonts, colors, and imagery style for a cohesive look. Avoid clashing graphics or off-brand stock photos.

  4. Consider "showing," not just "telling"
    Sometimes a visual demonstration can be more impactful than description. For instance, if you‘re giving a talk on user experience, you might demonstrate a confusing interface live to drive home the importance of UX before introducing your main points on the next slide.

Mistakes to Avoid in Your Presentation Opening
Just as important as what to do is what not to do. Steer clear of these common presentation opening pitfalls:

  1. Starting with a lackluster greeting
    "Hello everyone, thank you for being here." Yawn. Avoid wasting your precious opening seconds with generic greetings that do nothing to capture attention or establish your authority. Jump right into your hook.

  2. Apologizing or drawing attention to weaknesses
    Avoid beginning with disclaimers like "I‘m not much of a public speaker" or apologies for technical difficulties. These lower your credibility and put your audience on edge. Instead, project competence and preparedness.

  3. Rambling without a clear point
    Don‘t meander to your point. Attention spans are short. Land your hook quickly and concisely. If a detail isn‘t crucial for your opening, save it for later or cut it entirely.

  4. Using clichés
    Overused opening lines like quotes by famous people or rhetorical questions like "How many of you have ever…" make your audience tune out immediately. Avoid trite expressions and aim for originality.

Crafting Your Powerful Presentation Opening
An effective presentation opening is your opportunity to create a strong first impression, capture your audience‘s attention, and lay the groundwork for a talk that educates, inspires, and compels action.

By using proven attention-grabbing strategies like storytelling and question-asking, introducing yourself in an audience-centric way, teasing the transformative value of your presentation, and designing compelling slides, you‘ll be well on your way to presentation success.

Just remember, crafting a great presentation opening is a skill that takes practice. Don‘t expect perfection right away. Experiment with different techniques, get feedback from colleagues or friends, and hone your approach over time.

If you invest the time to thoughtfully plan and practice those critical first few minutes, you‘ll reap the benefits in more engaged audiences, increased credibility, and ultimately, greater impact with every presentation you deliver.