Presentations With Impact – 5 Effective Ways to Start Your Speech

When you begin your presentation you are at your most anxious. And that’s entirely natural. No amount of planning, preparation or research will prepare you for your audience’s response. Hence the anxiety. Natural anxiety. The flip side, of course, is that your audience is also anxious. They have read the program notes and heard the introduction but, they really don’t know what impact you will have on them. And that is natural for any audience.

The situation is perfect for you, the presenter, to make an instant impression. But note that you only have a few minutes in which to make that impression. Your first comments are very important to both you and your audience. Your comments provide the opportunity to set out your goals, your purpose and structure — essential pointers for your audience to hook on to. Your opening words will establish your expertise and suggest to your audience what you can offer — why your presentation will be either valuable or important to them. And don’t forget that your opening should seize their attention from the beginning. To help you there are 5 effective ways to open your speech. You can use them on their own or combine them for even greater effect.

A question. Asking a question at the start of your presentation is an effective opener. When you answer it you lay out the purpose of your speech, your subject, main points or thesis.
A reference. You can make a reference to a time or event in history, politics or sport. When you do so, you establish context and relevance for your presentation. You set your points into a wider framework of experience and build their credibility.
A quotation. Using a quotation that is relevant, interesting and erudite is also a useful opener. Be wary of anything that is over-used. Remember to cite your source and take advantage of something that is totally targeted to your subject. Choose something that maps your theme. Something that supports your main points.
Drama. You can achieve a dramatic opening to your presentation with your own voice, amplified sound, music, images or film. Using action, activity and movement will stimulate your audience. They can’t ignore it and they won’t ignore it.
Humor. Using humor to open your speech is an effective way to set the tone for your presentation and establish affinity with your audience. You can often combine this opener with a witty quotation or dictionary definition that establishes both relevance and authority. If you use humor in your beginning then you should aim to use it later — with anecdotes or stories perhaps.

How you choose to begin your presentation depends on your subject, your audience and the tone you want to establish. A good beginning will set you up well for all that follows. It’s true that a good opening is no guarantee of a good presentation. But it’s equally true that a weak opening comes close to guaranteeing a weak presentation.

Andrew Ivey is the Principal Trainer at UK-based public speaking training course provider Time to Market, Time to Market provides presentation skills and public speaking training courses at more than 40 training centres in the UK.

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