You have only one occasion to make a first impression! If your opening is weak, you have already lost most of the audience and you will battle to get it back. On the opposite, if you strike the audience at the beginning, you can take them by the hand and lead them through your path.
There are way many ways to grab the attention of your audience. If you are using a computer, you can start with a picture, a single word, a quote or a provocative question. Let’s imagine you are looking for investors for your new company. Your first slide could be a fake picture of your stock price on the ticker at Wall Street. Or it could be a picture of the business award you received three years ago for another company you created or managed.
In the same vein, it could be a question that you project: where will you be in five years from now? Every person in the audience has an answer to this question, but you can start by telling them your version of where you see them and you.
There are traps though, and big no-nos! The first one is unfortunately one of the most used and is lame. The speaker starts with “Good morning” (replace morning by afternoon or evening depending on the time of the day) and repeat “Good morning”. Then goes into: “Hmm, you does not seem waken up, I said good morning!” while increasing her voice. She wants you to answer her good morning by good morning. Do not ever do that! It is lame and there are high risks that you will irritate the audience.
The second one is making fun of the audience or using cultural, religious or political jokes. You may shock your addressees and they will get a leave a very bad impression. The third and final is to excuse or depreciate yourself. The famous: “I am a new here and I apologize for not having prepared enough for this meeting”. Wow! The best way to soap on the board.
There is only one good way to start until you are ready for prime time and can take risks: Take a deep breath, smile and start with a dynamic “good morning, I am very happy to be with you today for…(give the purpose of your presentation in one short sentence)”, then pause for a second, look at some people in the eye and start your story.
Your attention grabbing piece should be personal and should speak to your audience. The most important part actually is that you are not making a speech or a presentation for you. You make it for your listeners. You will not tell the same story to investors from Wall Street and to teenagers. So adapt! The first minute is crucial. If you have caught their attention, half the job is done and we will continue next week with setting the scene.
And oh, one last thing, if you are using technology (computer, projector, clicker, etc.), ensure all works well before starting, nothing worse than seeing a presenter battling with his computer in front of everybody. Be professional, get to the room ahead of time and set everything up. Even if it involves waking up one or two hours earlier.