7 Memorable Ways to Open a Presentation (With Examples)
by Andrea Pacini —
The first words of a presentation are the most important. Your opening needs to grab the audience’s attention and hold it.
The philosopher Plato said: “The beginning is the most important part of the work.”
Sadly, most business leaders don’t think carefully enough about the way they open their presentations. Instead, they focus on the main body of their presentation and leave the opening to chance.
Or they make the common mistake of opening with a boring agenda slide or by introducing themselves. Those openings don’t work and won’t capture the audience’s attention.
Audience members don’t care about us and our agenda. They only care about themselves and their needs.
If you don’t seize the opportunity to deliver a great opening you’ll lose the audience and it will be hard to win them back.
In a Formula 1 race it’s a huge advantage to start in pole position at the front of the grid. The driver who starts in first place is more likely to win because there is no one to overtake and much of the hard work has been done.
You can apply that analogy to a presentation. If you can get off to a flying start, the rest of the presentation is more likely to go well and you’ll achieve your aims.
Seven examples of good openings
Here are some suggestions of tactics you can use for your introductions. You could use any of them on their own or combine more than one technique together.
The options below also include examples, either my own or from our clients. I’ve anonymised the client examples for confidentiality reasons.
1. What next
This is the simplest introduction which always works well.
Here you tell the audience what to expect from the presentation一what’s coming next, what you’re going to cover and what they’ll get out of it.
You can say something like:
‘In this presentation I’m going to cover three main points:
- Message 1
- Message 2
- Message 3
By the end of this presentation, you’ll … [what will they get out of it]’
2. Context, Problem, Solution
In this type of introduction you provide a context, which is the current state of things as it relates to your message. Then you introduce a problem before offering a solution to that problem.
Here is an example of this put into practice:
‘In this presentation I’m going to talk about workplace safety. We could avoid a lot of occupational accidents just by increasing knowledge and using simple information systems that help companies track, identify and eliminate risk at work.’
‘However, the reality is different. For example, did you know that in 2019—in the UK alone—we lost more than 38 million workdays due to work-related accidents? Not only that, but every year an unacceptably high number of people work in unsafe and unhealthy work environments. And this of course places costs on the employees, the businesses and the environment.
So, the question we must ask ourselves is, Why? Why with all the information and guidelines available do we continue to have workplace incidents?’
‘At ABC we have a solution. We are passionate about developing user-friendly software that improves the flow of information and streamlines all the documentation you need so you can reduce your safety risks related to the workplace.
Let me show you how it works.’
3. You want to be, for that you need, the problem is
Think about what your audience wants to achieve and start by stating that. Then tell them what they need to do if they want to be successful. Add the tension of a potential problem to get them even more interested.
Here’s an example of this type of introduction:
‘I’m here today because you mentioned you want to understand how 3D printing can be of value to your business.
For that you need to have an idea of what can be done with 3D printing as a production process.
The problem is, up until now most engineers haven’t been considering 3D printing as a production option, but only as a prototyping and experimental technology.
We want to change that! Recently, some of this technology has matured to the point where it has the speed, stability and economics to become a viable production process. So, in this presentation I’m going to show you how you can add 3D printing as a versatile tool in your production toolbox.’
4. A surprising fact or a shocking statistic
Here you hit the audience immediately with a striking fact.
For example, the introduction above about work-related accidents could be adapted to this style.
‘Did you know that in 2019—in the UK alone—we lost more than 38 million workdays due to work-related accidents?’
5. A relevant quotation
If an authority or an expert in your field has said something interesting, relevant to the message you want to get across, try starting with that.
One of our clients who was giving a presentation on the importance of hiring with purpose (i.e. hiring with the right values), started this way.
‘Today I’m going to talk about why as startup founders you should hire with purpose. As Marc Benioff (CEO of Salesforce) said, “The secret to a successful hire is this: look for the people who want to change the world”.’
Our client went on to explain the quotation in more detail later in the presentation in the context of the message he wanted to convey.
6. A thought-provoking question
A great way to kick off a presentation is with a question.
Here’s an example of a question which would be suitable for an introduction which I found in the book The Mission Corporation by Michael T Moe and Michael M Carter.
I’ve updated the language from the original material to make it work better in this context.
‘Imagine how great it would be if the entrepreneurs of the future refused to act only in their own self-interest and were instead driven by purpose and desire to act in the interest of all. Even better, if they were rewarded for doing that. What difference would that make?
In this presentation I’m going to talk about the impact that capitalism has had in the world and what now needs to be improved on to ensure it adapts to reflect the values of future generations.’
7. A story, metaphor or analogy
This is my favourite technique. Think about the main message you want to convey, then ask yourself, ‘Is there a story, a metaphor or an analogy that I can use to illustrate my point?’
For example, in one of my workshops—where I give an introduction to becoming a more confident presenter—I start with the analogy that a presentation is like a first date.
‘A presentation is an opportunity to make a great first impression. It’s like a first date.
The problem I see is that most people and companies make the huge mistake of making an invisible first impression when presenting.
It’s not that they make a bad first impression (although that often happens), but it’s also not a good first impression. It’s just invisible. And we want to change that.
That’s what we’re going to do today. So, by the end of this workshop you’ll have a very good understanding of how you can be a more visible, impactful and confident presenter.’
The opening section of a presentation is your chance to grab the audience’s attention and maintain it.
Don’t waste time introducing yourself or showing the audience an agenda slide. People are not interested in you. They care about themselves and their needs.
You don’t have to try and be too clever. Just telling the audience what you’ll be talking about is a great way to start.
Other good opening ideas are to explain a problem you’ll solve for the audience or to hit them with a thought-provoking quotation, fact or question.
My favourite opening is when you use a story, metaphor or analogy which is relevant to your key message.
Whichever type of introduction you use, time spent working on an opening is always worthwhile.
Please comment, get in touch or share the article with any colleagues or friends who might benefit from the ideas. If this article has helped you, please let me know and give me some feedback.
If you want to become a more confident presenter, take the Confident Presenter Scorecard. Answer simple Yes/No questions, get an instant score plus suggestions for improvement. It takes less than 3 minutes. Once you complete the scorecard, you’ll receive a free pdf copy of my best-selling book Confident Presenter.
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