How Not to Start Your Speech: 10 Presentations Mistakes You Can Avoid

George TorokCommunication skills, Insights, Presentation Tips Leave a Comment


The beginning of your speech is the first impression for your audience. You want to convey a positive message because that determines how they initially judge you and your message. It might even determine if they will listen.

Don’t start your presentation with these mistakes.

How not to open your speech presentation

You like me. You really like me!
Remember Sally Fields starting her speech when she accepted her academy award. Her gushing outburst was mocked because it seemed unprofessional. We all want to be liked but Sally pushed our nausea button with her act.

If they are giving you the award don’t insult them by pretending that you don’t deserve it.

Tell a joke
Beware of advice that tells you to start your presentation with a joke.

That’s a terrible way to start your speech.


It’s difficult to tell a joke well in front of an audience. It usually fails – a bad way to start your speech. Often the joke has not relevance to your key message leaving the audience disappointed and confused at the beginning of your speech.

How is everybody today?
Two problems with this:

It’s silly because it asks a question that nobody can answer.

It’s insincere because the speaker doesn’t want to know how everybody is. The only way to answer this question is to invite everyone to answer the question one at a time – which would probably take longer time that allocated for the presentation.

Then there’s the “motivational speaker” that’s starts with this phony question. He repeats the question only louder as if that means your first response was too weak. It looks, sounds and feels phony and it annoys people – a terrible way to start your presentation.

I don’t know why I have been asked to speak
Imagine the thoughts that go through the minds of your audience when you start with this phrase. If you don’t know – why are you speaking? This is going to be a dreadful presentation. Why did I attend? How do I escape?

Be clear on why you are speaking and ensure the audience is clear.


I’m really nervous

You can admit to being imperfect. But don’t start by telling your audience that you are a lousy presenter, this is your first time or that you are very nervous.

That conveys lack of confidence and competence on your part. Imagine telling your audience, “I’m not confident or competent”.

Remember,  they can’t tell the state of your nerves so keep it to yourself. If you are a lousy presenter, they will decide on their own soon enough. Don’t foretell your own presentation disaster.

I’m really not prepared
How would you feel when the speaker says this at the beginning of his speech? You might think about leaving the room, checking your email or tuning out at the least.

As the presenter you want to build interest and anticipation when you start your presentation. You want your audience to perk up and think, “This could be good.”

I’m sorry
Don’t start your presentation with an apology. I’m sorry for starting late. I’m sorry that the coffee was cold. I’m sorry that the real speaker couldn’t be here.

What a depressing way to start a speech. Instead, start strong and positive.

I’m perfect you’re not
An appropriate introduction would state flattering points bout you to build your credibility with the audience.

But you must not start your presentation appearing to be perfect. You need to build rapport and one way to do that is by revealing a human flaw, admitting an embarrassing mistake or voicing your own dilemma.

Maybe the introducer messed up your introduction. Perhaps the conference appeared badly organized. Maybe the venue screwed up the registration and the meal. The speaker before you might have chewed into your presentation time.

Don’t criticize. If you do that, the audience will tune you out. If any of those things happened, you must capture their attention by taking the higher road. Offer them hope. Show them your insights to a better way.

Kissing up
You are the most beautiful audience  that I’ve ever spoken to. Yuk!

You can complement your audience but make it appropriate, sincere and factual. False flattery stinks of snake oil.

Improve the start of your presentation by removing these 10 errors so you can start your speech in the right direction.

Your audience will be amazed.


How Not to Start Your Speech: 10 Presentations Mistakes You Can Avoid

©George Torok is The Speech Coach for Executives and creator of Superior Presentations. He coaches executives and trains professionals to deliver Superior Presentations.


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