Writing a Powerful Presentation – Part 2: Grab ‘Em With Your Strong Beginning

Think back to the last business presentation you’ve heard. A business presentation does not always involve a rapt audience, podium with microphone, and multimedia presentation.

In fact, almost never. We will be thinking staff meeting; training for implementing a new process or procedure; a report to the board or council; representing your organization at a gathering. In the business situation, your presentation opportunities cover a lot of ground.

So what was it about that last presentation? How long did it take you to decide that you wanted to give the speaker your 100% attention, or whether to multi-task and get something else done while “listening”?  Probably within the first 30 seconds? Certainly within the first minute, for the typical listener. That’s where the speaker either “grabs you,” or…

So, after you have greeted your audience (step 1), what do you say next; how do you begin? How do you get their attention (step 2)?

Here are one dozen thought-starters for your first 30 seconds:

  1. Straight information. Here’s the typical speech-class introduction, and it still works just fine. Tell your audience what you are going to tell them in a straightforward manner, using the who-what-when-where-how-why formula for clarity, and to set expectations.
  1.  Quotation. Start with a grabber. Find a quotation that sums up succinctly what they may look forward to hearing about. You may quote a well-known and respected authority – or, if the point is well made, someone no one has ever heard of. In the latter case, it could be useful to describe his or her background to provide credibility for having made that statement.
  1. New information, perhaps a startling fact your audience has never heard, or may not know.
  1. Evoke emotion. This can be done with words – a story is particularly useful here – or with an action. The breaking of his dearly-beloved dead father’s precious gold watch onstage at the beginning of his speech was the hallmark of a particularly emotion-arousing evangelist of the 1920’s. And this sort of drama can be used even today – almost a century later. (You’ve already figured out, I’m sure, that the watches he used were the cheapest ones from the dime store, and that his father may not have had a watch at all, nor been particularly beloved!)
  1. Start with an activity. Get your audience up out of their seats and have them do something. Or have them discuss a specific point with the person next to them. Or give them the tool you will be teaching them to use, and ask them to start doing something with it immediately. Get them physically involved right away in the first 30 seconds.
  1. Tell a story. A particularly good way to have people identify with the subject, or with you, immediately. Also an excellent technique for evoking emotion. Telling your own story can also be the perfect way to establish your credibility (step 3).
  1. Self-interest. What good thing will happen for your audience members if…. People make decisions based on enlightened self-interest. If you use this technique, be certain you can deliver, and that what you are saying will work as promised. For example, “By using the new technique I will show you, you can cut the time it takes to install this ABC product by 50%!”
  1. Statistics. Should also be used effectively to back up the startling fact, or new information beginning. Using numbers builds believability, because the point you are making is specific, and can be checked out (not that most people will very often!)
  1. Challenge the listener. Here are two examples: (1) Are you the one person in this room who…” or (2) “Today I am going to ask you to put your courage, your dedication, and every bit of skill you possess on the line. I am going to ask you, beg you, plead with you to….”
  1. Start with a testimonial. It can be your own personal story, or that of another, demonstrating the good that will result if….
  1. Refer to current news. And relate it to your “take-away point.”
  1. A performance piece. Most often used to begin an entertainment presentation, this technique can be adapted to the business audience as well. Unlike the entertainer who sings a song, or reads a poem, Perhaps the speaker performs some physical activity with a piece of equipment being introduced to the sales team to demonstrate the equipment’s benefits, differences from the competition, and ease of use.

There you have them – a dozen ways to get started with your powerful presentation! How to tell them what you are going to tell them. Next week, how to write the body beautiful of your presentation: how to tell them.


Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.