7 brilliant ways to start a presentation

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.”
— Plato

When we speak, we have about 60 seconds to capture our audience’s attention, establish credibility, orient them to our topic, and motivate them to listen, says Darlene Price, president of Well Said, Inc., and author of “Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results.”

If you waste those precious opening seconds with a joke, an agenda, an apology, housekeeping details, a string of thank-yous, or a rambling, pointless paragraph littered with “ums” and “uhs,” your audience’s minds are likely to drift, and you may not get them back. “You need to put the art in the start, the most important part of the work,” says Price.

That’s a tall order for any speaker — and it requires us to develop and rehearse a well-crafted, attention-getting opener.

Price offers seven options:

3. State a shocking statistic or headline.

Price says the vice president of sales for America's leading healthcare IT company successfully sells software solutions to hospitals by starting her presentations with the following:

'According to a new study in the Journal of Patient Safety, medical errors leading to patient death are much higher than previously thought. Preventable adverse events, known as PAEs, cause up to 400,000 deaths per year for patients who seek care at a hospital. That means medical errors are the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer. Our vision is to create a world free of medical errors, and we need your help.'

'The statistic, bold claim, or headline needs to be directly related to the main purpose of your presentation,' Price explains. 'Its impact ideally persuades the audience to listen and respond positively to your recommendation and next steps.'

5. Show a gripping photo.

A picture is worth a thousand words -- 'maybe even more,' Price says.

'Use photos instead of text, when possible,' she suggests. A quality photo adds aesthetic appeal, increases comprehension, engages the audience's imagination, and makes the message more memorable.

Price offers the following example of an effective use of an image:

The president of an electronics equipment company needed his managers to cut costs. Rather than showing mundane charts, graphs, and spreadsheets, he opened the meeting by asking, 'What sank the Titanic?' When everyone in unison replied, 'an iceberg,' he displayed a beautiful high-definition image of an iceberg on the screen: the tip of the iceberg was clearly visible above the water; the much larger portion was dimly visible below the surface of the water.

'The same thing is about to happen to our company,' he continued. 'Hidden costs -- the dangers beneath the surface -- are about to sink this company. I need your help.' This visual metaphor spawned a creative, productive brainstorming session that inspired every business unit manager to diligently hunt for what they labelled the 'icebergs,' says Price. The result was saving millions and ultimately the company.

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