5 Powerful Ways to Open a Presentation

frog-speechWe’ve all been there before: staring at the glow of your blank computer screen with no idea on how to open or start your talk. For starters, you should never be staring at PowerPoint with no clear objective (that’s a conversation for another day), but let’s be honest, we’ve all struggled with the best ways to open a presentation.

It’s time to get unstuck. Here are 5 powerful ways to open a presentation:

1. Use Silence

Most people won’t be able to pull this off very easily, but if you are feeling like a rockstar during your next presentation, opt for silence. Say a few words then be quiet. Say a few more words then be quiet. It’s a quick and easy way to own the room. Just make sure you can hold your composure.

2. Point to the Future or Past

I have two simple statements for you:

-Prospective (looking to the future): “30 Years from now, your job won’t exist.”

-Retrospective (looking to the past): “In 1970, Japan owned 9% of the market. Today, they own 37%.”

The reality is that looking into the future or past always sparks engagement since that’s where our hearts live.

3. Quote Someone

The easiest way to open a talk is simply to quote someone. Think about that last presenter you heard when they opened their talk with a quote from Albert Einstein or Napoleon. A quote equals instant credibility.

4. Share Something Extraordinary

I don’t know about you, but I love Snapple. Even more so, I love their bottle caps since they always share fun facts or extraordinary insight into ordinary things. Is my life going to be improved because I know how many times a bee’s wings flaps in a second? No. Is it crazy interesting? Yes.

5. Tell a Story

Here’s the amazing thing about stories: If your presentation is based solely on facts and stats then your audience is going to react in one of two ways: 1) agree or 2) disagree. However, if you tell a story, your audience will participate with you. Still not sold? Stories have been known to increase audience retention by up to 26%.

So, what are you waiting for? Experiment. Try something new. Step outside your comfort zone. You’ll see some amazing results by trying any one of these techniques.

Read More: 5 Powerful Ways to Close a Presentation

Scott Schwertly is the author of How to Be a Presentation God and CEO of Ethos3, a Nashville, TN-based presentation boutique providing professional presentation design and training for national and international clients, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to branded individuals like Guy Kawasaki. 

186 Responses to “5 Powerful Ways to Open a Presentation”

  1. Carol Sanchez

    This was very helpful! I have to write different presentations for a lot of my classes, being a science major its expected. I’m going to experiment with this new information. Thank you!

  2. Three Things To Say

    Excellent – have used all of these in the past without thinking about them so very helpful. The silence is particularly powerful – sometimes in the middle of a presentation too!

    i remember starting a presentation once with “Let me take you back to 1848 in a town not 50 miles from here…..” At the same time I moved across the stage as if to show moving back in time….. worked a treat and people commented afterwards about how it grabbed their attention…. Rest of the presentation was a bit boring to tell you the truth. HaHa

    Thanks again

  3. fajas para adelgazar

    Sincerely, thanks for the councils, is difficult to manage public and between nervousness and build credibility, anything can happen, run out of voice, repeating the same idea, choking with time travel. I think to maintain composure is the best advice based on pauses and silences (you can relax and go gaining confidence)

  4. wisdom

    Fantastic ideas!!! Tried no. 2 and it was really cool.

  5. Ajay Kumar Raman

    Highly effective presentation ideas. I’m going to use some of these in my presentations.

  6. Bette Lou HIggins

    Great ideas! Another idea for the actual on-stage moment:
    Save your PowerPoint as a SLIDE SHOW (.PPS or .PPSX or as a PDF show) so that the prentation opens directly on your computer (and you don’t have to have PowerPoint on the computer to use it in case you’re not using your own computer). Once you’re on-stage, don’t make your audience look at SOFTWARE. They should come in and see your first slide (which could be an advertisement of your upcoming attraction). Unless you’re in a classroom, the audience doesn’t need to see “computer clutter”.

    Have fun!

  7. B S Warrier

    Fine hints which may be gainfully utilized
    by any person making a presentation.
    Many presenters who never take feedback
    and learn from it continue to bore audiences.
    Many thanks

  8. Dennis

    I like to use Gods. On each project I pick a theme set of gods (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, etc.) and the opening slide features the god or goddess of whatever topic (or closest to) we are talking about. Example: Working with Accounting people, I recently used Seshat – the Egyptian Goddess of Accounting (one of the areas she covers) – and manage to get an image on-line.
    I often use quotes as well.

  9. johnlaity

    Use music or best a Video. Everyone will know to take their seat and be quiet.

    Video is great as it can set the tone you want to achieve.

  10. Dr Mohd Iqbal

    Very good ideas that can be used gainfully and easy too.

  11. Kevin K.

    i had a professor that had a 5 minute timer that counted down, with a loud alarm going off when time to start. Very effective at getting everyone’s attention at the same time.

  12. Fred Talbott

    Superb advice. Excellent writing. The launch is the key. Then follow with compelling, memorable storytelling that includes and involves every listener. Thanks Scott!

  13. Mario

    Always I have received hints like that; ever thank. Great advice, best results.

  14. Asagi

    One more: tell about your self your passions or even your secrets, it could be anything from knitting to skydiving or latex fetish, be creative present it passionately with pictures and music. I promise you will see dropping jaws :)

  15. naggy

    I will make use of these strong five points in my coming presentation

  16. Dennis Arter

    I discovered the power of #1 – Silence – when presenting in English to a non-English-speaking audience. I start with a bold and simple sentence, then wait for their brains to translate. Then another few simple sentences. Wait.

    When I did this in Turkey, an American colleague came up to me after the speech and said, “I didn’t know how powerful the pause for self-translation could be. I will try that myself when I present tomorrow.” I was happy that I contributed to his success.

  17. Tim Patterson

    I like all of the ideas, although using a quote would be at the bottom of the five. If it’s a great quote and it relates to the topic of your presentation, I say use it. Don’t use a quote for the sake of using a quote – it had better be good. I think quotes fit better in the body of your presentation. I’ve often used them either as a transition, or to illuminate or drive home a point.

  18. Stephanie Vilner

    I tale the death spot no one wants after lunch. The last death spot I presented at, the floor to ceiling windowed venue I had blacked out the light over the lunchbreak unbeknownest to the audience ho had mo venue access..and they came in to the music from Jaws playing. It definitely caught their attention!

  19. Seán Manning

    When presenters do this sort of thing, as an audience member I have a sense of being manipulated, I can feel myself turning away from the presenter, and they have to work harder to get my sympathy. These tips may work with very naive audiences, but for professional audiences, the enthusiasm (it has to be real) of the presenter and the quality of the information is what does it.

  20. Ayilumo Tosin

    I love the strategies.I’ll implore them in my seminar next 2 weeks,topic;Secondary metabolites,’gift’from God.I’l drop the result after the seminar.Thanks

  21. Razz

    Great advice. I have used these tactics and agreeably it has kept my audience attention, especially if the related story is aligned to their own frustrations so that they feel you understand them; as opposed to selling them something that has been mandated by higher management.

  22. Trevor Sofield

    I saw this once, have since used it many times. Your computer will not open. You try hitting button after button, you fiddle with the connection to the overhead projector, nothing works. You let the audience see you increasing frustration. You kick the desk. You even start muttering into the mike about the lousy so-and-so. And the audience is right with you. They have all experienced computer failure themselves. You dive into the cupboard underneath the computer, pull out a hammer and SMASH the computer. Bits fly everywhere. The audience is aghast, stunned. You say: “I’ve always wanted to do that!” And the audience cheers.
    And while they are still recovering you calmly pull out the real computer, all rigged up and ready to go.
    The computer you smashed is an old one supplied by the tech division, and you have of course planted the hammer beforehand. Each time you hit the keyboard a few more bits jump out so you keep on collecting them all and spread them out on top of the keyboard (the audience can’t see them because you have the screen raised, so blocking their view).

    Timing is important, so you need to spend at least 1-2 minutes demonstrating increasing frustration, until the audience can see you are reaching breaking point (pun intended).

    But after that you have the audience eating our of your hand, and out of the 101presentations at a conference, the one they will remember and talk about is yours.

  23. Ola Ayeni

    I am not sold on this silence idea . You were introduced, got on the stage, and said nothing. People are anxious and full of expectation and then you said nothing for the next 1-2 minutes. This is no fun. I had an experience 8 years ago while working for a pharmaceutical company. Everyone was ready for me to present and introduce the name of the presenter and for about 15 seconds I did not remember the name of the person or his title. I looked like a fool.

  24. Coach Joe

    Well, lets see where do I start? Well, I guess in the beginning. I have made many-many presentations for the government and educational classes. I have never started any let these five examples. I would say that the audience already knows why they are there what the subject(s) are. With that said.

    I open up by saying the following:

    A. Introduction:

    I am Joe and I am here for the following presentation(s). If this is the wrong place, please feel free to leave and find the correct presentation you are here for, You can find a list of break out rooms in the main hallway and/or lobby. Again, if not! they may be in the WRONG presentation(s) and should make their way to the correct one(s).

    B. Subject matter:

    C. Information concerning the subject matter:

    Such as, Why are you here today; due to, updates, concerns, past history and further events which may have caused this presentation to a groups as the ones in front of you now.

    D. Slides, Presenter’s and facts:

    E. Review the subject as needed:

    F. Q and A if needed on subject:

    G. Closing:

    if any, guess speaks on the subject on hand.

    Perhaps, I don’t have faith to open with the following option(s):

    1. Use Silence: You are very right on this one. I would lose the audience right off the bat.

    I do not want to represent something I am NOT! and/or fool the audience.

    2. Point to the Future or Past

    I have one simple statement. The audience knows why they are there.

    3. Quote Someone:

    Wrong state the fact of the subject matter and enforce the presentation(s). You, know why you are there and should have the facts in front of you and on slides, if needed.

    4. Share Something Extraordinary:

    You, should have gotten the audience attention already or you are lost and simply make it short.

    5. Tell a Story:

    The Audience is not there to hear story’s. Stay on the subject. I as a boss, don’t want to send my employees to hear story’s, joke makeup ides. They are there to learn, listen, get the facts on the subject matter and come back to the office and/or business and inform the employee’s on what they have learned or not learned.

    So, stated! any questions, please feel free to comment on my presentation style.

    Coach Joe
    I also give presentation’s to family group, supporters of sports event and others.

  25. hana

    interesting and helpful. I am a facilitator of training to community health development project and some of my sessions are using presentation methods. Telling story is very good to put in mind what is the angle yo want to highlight or making space to grab the ideas from the audiences.

  26. Ferris Wheeler

    YAWWWNNNNNN….. did you say something Scottie?

  27. Eric

    I agree 100% with ‘Coach Joe’.

    I am presenting for many years in front of military and engineering professional.
    It will not work! Not for professionals.

  28. S Radhakrishnan

    Very useful input for a starter. However one has to be creative and have a personal style, other wise it will look stereo type.

  29. Ujjwal

    I totally agree with few of the points. I myself have used 3, 4 & 5. Thanks for sharing.

  30. Ramalingam K S

    Yes.I am following the same only .
    Inspite of everything unless the particular person is open to learning nobody can do anything.

  31. charles bayer

    I can’t wait to try the ‘silent’ opening — just the challenge of being able to pull it off is worth trying it, best everyone, C.

  32. rjbt

    Silence is great to start with, but to drive points home as well.
    Stories are magic if used correctly. I once attended a technical conference where one speaker’s slides consisted solely of pictures/photos. The speaker then used the photo and told the 1000 word story. It was easy to understand and remember afterwards. Every-one remembered the picture presentation and the content.

  33. sudhir

    On 27th I have a presentaion, I would most certainly give the tipe a try


  34. Giuseppe Francavilla

    Thank you for that.
    Your suggestions can be very effective ways to quickly create empathy with the audience and fill the gap between you and them. After that, mesages will flow more easily.

  35. Chris

    I would like to add: welcome the audience in their mother tongue (if known). In my own experience it opens doors and asures full attention even more if it is not expected. I did this in a Chinese, Kurdish and Arab speaking audience in norther Iraq (although I do not speak those languages – of course not 😉 )

  36. Marino Baccarini

    All opinions are worth reading and I’d like to add mine. These 5 ways are great ones to open “some” specific types of presentation, because we should build our speech with the fundamental question in mind…that is: who is my target audience? How old are they? Why they are here and what are their goals? It’s always, always a matter of “who’s my target”! Then we can use different strategies and techniques… talk to accomplished theatre actors about how to engage the audience… or to tv show presenters and they will “all” share similar ways among which you could find some really nice tricks!!

  37. VG Padmanabhan

    Fantastic one!!!!
    Getting the attention of the audience is really difficult.
    These are really good way to get the attention of audience.
    I feel it will work fine. Thanks for sharing the tips.

  38. Ranjith Pinnapola

    Thank you very much

    very effective trips. I will use these trips next my first presentation.

  39. Len

    Good suggestions, and I include the recommendation in the comments about video – I recall opening a particularly long presentation with scenes from a well known submarine-themed movie, then stopping after a few minutes of that, continuing the presentation, using more video as the halfway point (building up the tension), finishing the presentation, then wrapping up with the climax scene, then silence, then “any questions?”.

  40. Dr Bhavini shah

    great !! Small practical tips take u a long way !!!

  41. Gonzalo

    I would like to add this… “When you are there, face to the people, always think… I know, they do not know what I am going to present; I am the owner of this speech”

  42. Suresh

    The first point really needs some strong heart..
    Cool points to jump start a ppt and grab attention of the listeners

  43. Nasrin Saffari

    Dear Sir,
    Thank you for your information. I think to show a short film or a short song would be too much effective.
    With RGDS,
    Student of Masters in Tourism Management

  44. edna tomar

    Thank’s for sharing these helpfull tips. I will use them for sure in my next presentations.

  45. Arlene O'Reilly

    Good reminders. Which ideas that might work best always depend on your audience.
    Trevor, I do love the smashing-the-computer opening. Wonderful idea for the right crowd!

  46. Hugh Varilly

    25 years ago, I had to make a really boring presentation about a review I led on an important IT project. Before I got into the detail of the review, I put up a slide with seven relevant quotes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The quotes made the review’s sponsors laugh and broke the ice, with the result that the presentation went very well.

  47. ???? ??????

    realy , that’s good point to begin a talk . thank you

  48. Brian Sharp

    Great post Scott! It seems so many people are OK with coming out the same ole way – things have changed! Audiences want/need to be entertained and connected to. Great and simple ideas on how to do so, well done.

  49. Leslie Belknap

    On behalf of the entire Ethos3 team, I want to thank everyone who commented on “5 Powerful Ways to Open a Presentation” by Ethos3 CEO Scott Schwertly. If you have additional questions or comments, please visit http://www.Ethos3.com or contact Leslie@Ethos3.com

    We look forward to hearing from you again soon!

  50. sandy upchurch

    I’ve recently changed up my presentation style and I am really having fun with it. I’ve thrown out the powerpoint which has given me much more confidence to carry the crowd without that crutch… Starting out with a story but not sharing the end of the story until the end of your presentation is a great trick too.

  51. Hasan Mujtaba Noori

    it really good tips to give attractive presentation. thank you.

  52. Er Prafulla K Acharya, Ph.D. in HRD & Mgt ( IIT_Kgp ), India

    All the five points are excellent. I have been using these and a few other techniques over last 40 years to give an attractive start, keep attention by using different action methods and to close with a climax to further ponder over.
    Now a freelance HRD Trainer in India visiting USA for six months every alternate year. ( Now in USA upto November 12-Ph-011-972-200-7485 )

  53. Christian

    Clear, simply, strong even bring us the atenttion that we need, but how you do it is the question there is a reason why an open presentation is very very important and I see this here.
    hope to see more of this.

  54. Guntis Veiskats

    Thank you. Good tips!
    And to those who say they don’t work, just use them wisely. We should know our audience and which approach will work. Some won’t, that’s for sure. So let’s just avoid those. :)

  55. Olalekan

    FIne tips… I use stories very well and silence. Stories make every one quiet and ready to hear you.

  56. Kemi Odulaja

    Wonderful tips! I use all five of them with no great thoughts to them. But knowing fully well that they do engage my audience. Especially when they are dozing off or I’ve lost them to their own inner thoughts

  57. Ademi

    thanks, good tips, I think it can be used to attract attention of auditory

  58. Mary Nelson

    Hi Scott,
    Great post. Great tips and quick and easy to digest. I wonder, would you mind sharing the top 3 to 5 presentations that have caught your eye? (I’m talking literally “caught your eye” — the ones that made you click on them because their title slide was so well done.) Thanks!
    ~ Mary Nelson

  59. Sandra

    Great tips! My question is, after they introduce you, do you directly go to the opening or do you first acknowledge the introduction and say hi to the audience? Thx

  60. Hugh Culver

    Nicely done! This blog is also a good example of how to present with a succinct style that keeps the listener’s (reader’s) interest.

  61. Dale Penn

    I agree with Hugh. New Years resolution: Read this blog more in 2014!

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