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Overhaul the Opening to a Presentation

Your purpose with the opening to your presentation or speech is to get the audience’s attention; you hope to engage the audience immediately. They will want to listen to you only if they think you can help them, entertain them, or inform them. They want assurance that you identify with their feelings, attitudes, or values.

The opening sets the overall direction of your presentation and lets the audience know what is about to happen and why they should listen.

The highest point of audience attention is the first few moments. So don’t squander those precious minutes with trivia, known information, or boring information such as announcements, an organizational chart, or the names and contact information for team members. A common mistake in sales presentations, is to start with the story of your organization — an “all about us” opening. Your client, though, is waiting you out — wondering “But what about me? What can you do for me?”

Grab attention — Don’t just hope for it.

Begin with an “opening to the opening” — something that relates to the meeting or occasion at hand. This should be brief—just a statement or two—and can be a reaction to another’s introduction of you, a comment on the occasion or decision at hand, or a compliment to the audience.

Then, the true opening is a message of interest to the listeners—the “what’s in it for them.” Consider these three attention-getting opening types in planning your next presentation:


Challenge the Audience

Examples: “Today, I challenge you to set a quota for your sales territory that will motivate even your best performer.” “My goal is to encourage you to seek out the training you need to acquire the skills that will position you to move ahead in your career.”


Declare Your Purpose

Examples: “After you see our designs, I’ll request your approval for the funding needed to begin construction immediately.” “My hope is that you’ll reach deep to donate an appropriate amount — whether $50, $100, or $1000 — to underwrite this memorial.”


Compare or Contrast Two Things

Examples: “Men look at garage shelving and say, ‘How functional!’ Women look at it and say, ‘How ugly!’ Likewise, we’ll look today at why some in our industry foresee decline is looming, while others claim the future to be exceptionally bright.” “Our competitor has increased their market share by 20 percent during the same period that ours has decreased by fifteen percent.  There’s a big lesson to be learned here—my topic for today.”


I am very little inclined on any occasion to say anything unless I hope to produce some good by it.

– Abraham Lincoln