Knowing how to start a presentation is crucial: if you fail to capture the audience’s attention right off the bat, your entire presentation will flop. Few listeners will stick with you to the end and retain what you have told.
That is mildly unpleasant when you are doing an in-house presentation in front of your colleagues. But it can become utterly embarrassing when you present in front of larger audiences (e.g., at a conference) or worse – delivering a sales presentation to prospective customers.
Here is how most of us begin a presentation: give an awkward greeting, thank everyone for coming, clear our throats, tap the mic and humbly start to mumble about our subject. The problem with such an opening performance? It effectively kills and buries even the best messages.
How to Start a PowerPoint Presentation The Right Way
Let’s say you have all of your presentation slides polished up (in case you don’t, check our quick & effective PowerPoint presentation design tips first). Your presentation has a clear storyline and agenda. Main ideas are broken into bite-sized statements for your slides and complemented with visuals. All you have left is to figure out how you begin presenting.
The best way is to appeal to and invoke certain emotions in your audience – curiosity, surprise, fear, or good-old amusements. And here’s how it’s done.
1. The Classic Trick: Open with An Introduction
When you don’t feel like reinventing the wheel, use a classic trick from the book – start with a quick personal introduction. Don’t want to sound as boring as everyone else with your humble “Hi, I’m John, the head of the Customer Support Department”? Great, because we are all about promoting effective presentation techniques (hint: using a dull welcome slide isn’t one of them).
Here’s how to introduce yourself in a presentation the right way.
a. Use a link-back memory formula.To ace a presentation, you need to connect with your audience. The best way to do so is by throwing in a simple story showing who you are, where you came from, and why the things you will say matter.
The human brain loves a good story, and we are more inclined to listen and retain the information told this way. Besides, when we can relate to the narrator (or story hero), we create an emotional bond with them, and, again – become more receptive, and less skeptical of the information that is about to be delivered.
So here are your presentation introduction lines:
My name is Joanne, and I’m the Head of Marketing at company XYZ. Five years ago I was working as a waitress, earning $10/hour and collecting rejection letters from editors. About ten letters every week landed to my mailbox. You see, I love words, but decent publisher thought mine were good enough. Except for the restaurant owner. I was very good at up-selling and recommending dishes to the customers. My boss even bumped my salary to $15/hour as a token of appreciation for my skill.
And this made me realize: I should ditch creative writing and focus on copywriting instead. After loads of trial and error back in the day, I learned how to write persuasive copy. I was no longer getting rejection letters. I was receiving thousands of emails saying that someone just bought another product from our company. My sales copy pages generated over $1,500,000 in revenue over last year. And I want to teach you how to do the same”
b. Test the Stereotype Formula.This one’s simple and effective as well. Introduce yourself by sharing an obvious stereotype about your profession. This cue will help you connect with your audience better, make them chuckle a bit, and set a lighter mood for the speech to follow.
Here’s how you can frame your intro:
“My name is ___, and I am a lead software engineer at our platform [Your Job Title]. And yes, I’m that nerdy type who never liked presenting in front of large groups of people. I would rather stay in my den and write code all day long. [Stereotype].
But hey, since I have mustered enough courage…let’s talk today about the new product features my team is about to release….”
After sharing a quick self-deprecating line, you transition back to your topic, reinforcing the audience’s attention. Both of these formulas help you set the “mood” for your further presentation, so try using them interchangeably on different occasions.
2. Open with a Hook
Wow your audience straight off the bat by sharing something they would not expect to hear. This may be one of the popular first-time presentation tips, but don’t rush to discard it.
Because here’s the thing: psychologically, we are more inclined to pay attention whenever presented with an unexpected cue. When we know what will happen next – someone flips the switch and lights turn on – we don’t really pay much attention to that action.
But when we don’t know what to expect next – e.g., someone flips the switch and a bell starts ringing – we are likely to pay more attention to what will happen next. The same goes for words: everyone loves stories with unpredictable twists. So begin your presentation with a PowerPoint introduction slide or a line that no one expects to hear.
Here are a few hook examples you can swipe:
a. Open with a provocative statement. It creates an instant jolt and makes the audience intrigued to hear what you are about to say next – pedal back, continue with the provocation, or do something else that they will not expect.
Image Source: TED
“You will live seven and a half minutes longer than you would have otherwise, just because you watched this talk.”
That’s how Jane McGonigal opens one of her TED talks. Shocking and intriguing, right?
b.Ask a rhetorical, thought-provoking question. Rhetorical questions have a great persuasive effect – instead of answering aloud, your audience will silently start musing over it during your presentation. They arose curiosity and motivated the audience to remain attentive, as they do want to learn your answer to this question.
To reinforce your message throughout the presentation, you can further use Rhetorical Triangle Concept – a rhetorical approach to building a persuasive argument based on Aristotle’s teachings.
c. Use a bold number, factor stat. A clean slide with some mind-boggling stat makes an undeniably strong impact. Here are a few opening statement examples you can use along with your slide:
- Shock them: “We are effectively wasting over $1.2 billion per year on producing clothes no one will ever purchase”
- Create empathy: “Are you among the 20% of people with undiagnosed ADHD?”
- Call to arms: “58% of marketing budgets are wasted due to poor landing page design. Let’s change this!”
- Spark curiosity: “Did you know that companies who invested in speech recognition have seen a 13% increase in ROI within just 3 years?”
3. Begin with a Captivating Visual
Compelling visuals are the ABC of presentation design – use them strategically to make a bold stamen at the beginning and throughout your presentation. Your first presentation slide can be text-free. Communicate your idea with a visual instead – a photo, a chart, an infographic, or another graphics asset.
Visuals are a powerful medium for communication as our brain needs just 13 milliseconds to render what our eyes see, whereas text comprehension requires more cognitive effort.
Relevant images add additional aesthetic appeal to your deck, bolsters the audience’s imagination, and make your key message instantly more memorable.
Here’s an intro slide example. You want to make a strong presentation introduction to global pollution. Use the following slide to reinforce the statement you share:
“Seven of nine snow samples taken on land in Antarctica found chemicals known as PFAs, which are used in industrial products and can harm wildlife”
4. Ask a “What if…” Question
The “what if” combo carries massive power. It gives your audience a sense of what will happen if they choose to listen to you and follow your advice. Here are a few presentations with starting sentences + slides to illustrate this option:
Alternatively, you can work your way to this point using different questions:
- Ask the audience about their “Why.” Why are they attending this event, or why do they find this topic relevant.
- Use “How” as your question hook if you plan to introduce a potential solution to a problem.
- If your presentation has a persuasion factor associated, use “When” as a question to trigger the interest of the audience on, for example, when they are planning to take action regarding the topic being presented (if we talk about an inspirational presentation).
5. Use the Word “Imagine”
“Imagine,” “Picture This,” and “Think of” are better word choices for when you plan to begin your presentation with a quick story.
Our brain loves interacting with stories. In fact, a captivating story makes us more collaborative. Scientists have discovered that stories with tension during narrative make us:
- Pay more attention,
- Share emotions with the characters and even mimic the feelings and behaviors of those characters afterward.
That’s why good action movies often feel empowering and make us want to change the world too. By incorporating a good, persuasive story with a relatable hero, you can also create that “bond” with your audience and make them more perceptive to your pitch – donate money to support the cause; explore the solution you are offering, and so on.
6. Leverage The Curiosity Gap
The curiosity gap is another psychological trick frequently used by marketers to solicit more clicks, reads, and other interactions from the audience. In essence, it’s the trick you see behind all those clickbait, Buzzfeed-style headlines:
Not everyone is a fan of such titles. But the truth is – they do the trick and instantly capture attention. The curiosity gap sparks our desire to dig deeper into the matter. We are explicitly told that we don’t know something important, and now we crave to change that. Curiosity is an incredibly strong driving force for action – think Eve, think Pandora’s Box.
So consider incorporating these attention grabbers for your presentation speech. You can open with one, or strategically weave them in the middle of your presentation when you feel like your audience is getting tired and may lose their focus.
Here’s how you can use the curiosity gap during your presentation:
- Start telling a story, pause in the middle and delay the conclusion of it.
- Withhold the key information (e.g., the best solution to the problem you have described) for a bit – but not for too long, as this can reduce the initial curiosity.
- Introduce an idea or concept and link it with an unexpected outcome or subject – this is the best opening for a presentation tip.
7. The Power of Silence
What would you do if you attended a presentation in which the speaker remains silent for 30 seconds after the presentation starts? Just the presenter, standing in front of the audience, in absolute silence.
Most likely, your mind starts racing with thoughts, expecting something of vital importance to be disclosed. The surprise factor with this effect is for us to acknowledge things we tend to take for granted.
It is a powerful resource to introduce a product or to start an inspirational presentation if followed by a fact.
8. Facts as Weapons of Communication
In some niches, using facts as the icebreaker is the best method to retain the audience’s interest.
Say your presentation is about climate change. Why not introduce a not-so-common fact, such as the amount of wool that can be produced out of oceanic plastic waste per month? And since you have to base your introduction on facts, research manufacturers that work with Oceanic fabrics from recycled plastic bottles.
Using facts helps to build a better narrative, and also gives leverage to your presentation as you are speaking not just from emotional elements but from actually recorded data backed up by research.
Now you know how to start your presentation – you have the opening lines, you have the slides to use, and you can browse even more attractive PowerPoint presentation slides and templates on our website. Also, we recommend you visit our article on Key Insights on How To End a Presentation Effectively in order to apply the best practices in your slides and how to make a PowerPoint Presentation.