Nine Ways to Successfully Open a Speech or Presentation
1. Practice, practice, practice your presentation opening to make it flawless. If you spend your first few sentences um-ing and ah-ing, your image and credibility as a speaker will be gone.
2. In general, do not open with controversy. Start with ideas people will be agreeable to. When trying to convince people to accept an idea, it can help to give them two subject-related rhetorical questions that they will nod in agreement to. The third related question is the one that may get potential resistance, but the previous affirmative nodding may help coax them into agreement, or at least consideration.
3. When deciding how to start a presentation, consider what kind of opening is suitable for the audience. I use a lot of humor in the workplace and in public, but I have to take into consideration the appropriateness to the occasion and the audience, and the relevance. If I have a presentation in the corporate office that may involve conflict or disagreement, I still may decide to start with a humorous anecdote, as I have found that humor is a great tool for reducing tension.
4. Making fun of yourself is an excellent icebreaker; audiences feel comfortable laughing at this type of self-inflicted humor. Laughter helps you form a bond with the audience, causing them to feel at ease, and to be more interested in your subject matter.
5. Your stories, rhetorical questions, etc., should relate to your subject matter and enhance your content.
6. Do not tap on the microphone to see if it is working. Why annoy the audience?
7. Do not open with a joke. A joke is only successful if audience members do not know the punch line. In this world of email and the Internet, many jokes are already worn out by the time they reach you. Use your own stories and vignettes.
8. Don’t use a story that goes on and on before reaching a conclusion or the punch line. The audience will lose track and lose interest.
9. Don’t use rude jokes. This is a quick way to turn off an audience.