Command Attention When You Open Your Presentation

George TorokPresentation Tips, Public Speaking


You only have a few seconds to set the tone when opening your presentation. A good start paves the road to success while a weak opening can slam shut the door to success.

Your opening must accomplish three objectives.
  1. Grab attention
  2. Set the direction
  3. Establish rapport

Without their attention, you have a room of non-listeners. Without knowing your direction, your audience will feel lost and confused. Without rapport, you might have a room of enemies.

You can grab attention with contrast, relevance and credibility.

You can set the direction by addressing the question, “Why are we here?”

You can establish rapport by demonstrating empathy, common interest and confidence.

open your presentation with pause

Command Attention when you open your presentation

The Marcel Marceau Opening

Use this powerful technique to open your presentation.

When it’s your turn to speak, walk slowly, confidently and proudly to the front of the room. Take your position. Face the audience. Stand tall. Breathe deeply. Smile confidently. Say nothing. Become a mime. Glance at one individual, then another, and another. Do this silently for five to ten seconds.

This is how you claim the room. It allows everyone to stop fidgeting and focus their attention on you.

They will be amazed at your self-confidence to silently wait for their attention. They will anticipate the powerful message that must naturally follow such a powerful opening.

Choose your first words carefully because they will be listening intently.


5 Presentation Opening Mistakes to Avoid


Speaking on your way to the front of the room

Doing this diminishes your perceived confidence and power because you appear unwilling to wait. You look over-anxious and uncomfortable.

It’s likely that many people might not hear what you said while walking to the front of the room.

Telling a joke

This was standard advice to public speakers five decades ago. It was bad advice then and even worse today. Don’t start with a joke.

In fact, you shouldn’t tell jokes in your presentations. Most jokes make fun of somebody else and that’s not the way to establish rapport with your audience. A painful example of this was the speaker who told a lawyer joke while opening his speech to a room full of lawyers.

Testing the microphone as you open

Perhaps you’ve witnessed a speaker blowing into the microphone and saying, “Is this thing on?” The time to test the microphone was before the meeting began. Get into the room before the audience arrives to test the audio and video equipment.

Before I begin

Think about that statement. The speaker walked to the front of the run and started with, “Before I begin.” That’s like a runner at the start of a race. The starter pistol sounds and everyone dashes off except one person who says, “I’m not ready yet.” The race started without you. Your presentation started when you were introduced.

Reading your opening

How old were you when you last enjoyed an adult reading to you? Were you seven or eight?

How do you feel when an adult reads to you now?

That should suggest how your audience might feel when you read to them.

Reading your opening will feel cold and distant. You won’t connect because your audience is likely to wonder, “Are you talking to me or simply reading a prepared statement? Did your lawyer instruct you to read that?”

The worst case of reading your speech is reading your self introduction, “Hello, my name is George.” I’ve seen speakers read their own name. That’s often the beginning of a boring speech.

When you’re reading, you’re not making eye contact. You’re not building rapport. You might as well be in another room.


Establish Curb Appeal

Think of the opening to your presentation as curb appeal. When you’re selling your house, you’d do best to establish an inviting curb appeal for potential buyers. You want their first impression to be positive, so they eagerly anticipate seeing what’s inside. You want them to stop and explore – not drive by.

When you create the opening to your presentation be sure to establish curb appeal so they eagerly anticipate listening to the rest of the presentation. Don’t allow them to drive by. Instead, build their anticipation for a worthwhile experience.


©George Torok is the Speech Coach for Executives.

Command Attention When You Open Your Presentation


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