Presentation Skills: Getting Off to a Good Start

In public speaking you only get one chance to make a first impression. In a presentation you may have no more than 10, and at the most 30 seconds to make an impression on your audience. The opening to a presentation is in many ways the most critical part and it always pays to plan it particularly carefully.

In the opening you need to set the tone for the presentation, attract the attention of the audience and orient them to the topic. From the very beginning you also need to start developing rapport, or a connection, with your audience. There are a variety of techniques you can use.

It is tempting to start a presentation by telling a joke or a funny story. If you are good at telling stories or jokes, and you get all the words right; and if the audience understands and appreciates the joke, then this can be a very successful way to get going. But the risks are high. If you are nervous at the start of a presentation, it is easy to forget the punch line. You also run the risk that some people in the audience may not understand or enjoy the joke.

Unless you are a highly skilled presenter, you will probably be safer using an alternative means of opening your presentations.

You could present an interesting news item, some facts that are not well known, or a quotation. These are all safe ways of making an impact at the start. Asking the audience a rhetorical question is an excellent way of gaining their attention.

Whatever technique you choose, keep it simple and safe so you get off to a positive start from which you can continue. There are few things worse than a joke that falls flat at the start of a presentation, leaving everyone embarrassed and the presenter lost for words.