A good introduction to the delivery of your presentation is extremely important. The first minute or so sets the stage for the rest of your talk.
You should start with an upbeat, positive mood. The first impression you make lasts. You want to quickly gain the attention, interest, and respect of your audience. Your first words should be lively, interesting, clear, and simple.
Start by expressing the fact that you’re glad to be there. A statement like, “I’m glad/excited/pleased/thrilled to be here” is almost obligatory. It invites the audience to be glad that they’re there, too. Your excitement is infectious and infuses the session with your energy.
Claudyne Wilder, in the July, 2007 issue of her newsletter, “Wilder’s Presentation Points,” said the following:
“A presenter who says, ‘I know you are busy people and have many things to do. Thank you for coming.’ only reminds everyone of all the things that they aren’t doing because they are sitting and listening. Distracting the audience before the presentation even begins is hardly a positive way to begin!”
Your introduction should answer the following
- Who are you?
- What is your topic?
- Why is it important?
Who are you?
If you will be introduced, re-mention your name and re-affirm the most important fact about yourself that the audience will find meaningful, such as your experience with the topic. Otherwise, provide a slightly longer introduction, but just enough to let people know why they should listen to you.
What is your topic?
Give a brief explanation of your topic, just a little longer than the title of your talk. Don’t give away the secret of your talk, but whet their appetite.
Why is it important?
Finally, tell the audience why the topic is important to them. What will they have gained by the time the talk is finished? Don’t feel shy to promise that they’ll learn something useful; they really want to know that.
The entire opening should only take a minute or two. More than that, and it becomes boring because the audience will be impatient to hear the main content of your presentation.
Lori Giovannoni, in her e-book, So You Want to Be a Speaker, says, “Your intro should be well rehearsed, clear and filled with confidence. This is not the time to stammer and stutter and hope for the best. A poor intro will drop the energy in the room and you will spend the next half hour trying to recapture it.”
Here are some other ideas for openers:
- Ask your audience a question and ask them to raise hands in reply. For example, “How many of you regularly give presentations to small audiences of 1 to 10 people?”
- Begin with an interesting, relevant quote. Then use that quote to launch your talk. For example, “Author and columnist Earl Wilson said, ‘If you wouldn’t write it and sign it, don’t say it.’ This gives us a clue as to how you can gain believability from your audience.”
- Mention something another speaker said, or a current event, that is related to your presentation.
- Start with a short, relevant personal story or experience.
When you’ve written your introduction/opening, rewrite it and edit it until you like it. Then practice giving it out loud. Practice again. Time it. Record it and listen to it. Make adjustments and practice the new version. You should be able to speak it out without looking at your notes. When you’re done, you’ll have a great opener to your presentation!