If you’re terrified of public speaking, the idea of giving a presentation probably isn’t at the top of your ‘to do’ list, but speaking well and being able to put across ideas are vital skills, whether you run your own business, or work for someone else.
Those skills are needed to put your point across in meetings, to persuade your team or your boss to go with your ideas, to ask for a pay rise, to persuade potential clients to buy, and a whole host of other things, as well as actually giving presentations.
If you really struggle with public speaking, try taking a course and getting some practical experience to help you improve your communication skills.
Here's our step by step guide for how to start a presentation, accompanied by helpful presentation tips.
Take some time to prepare - run through what you’re going to say and how you’re going to put your message across.
There’s nothing quite like solid preparation to reduce those nerves.
Once you have your presentation worked out, you will need to practice it, but even though you might think it’s the best way to have a flawless presentation, don’t memorise what you’re going to say.
That might sound like incredibly bad advice, but here’s why:
Not only that, but every audience is different. Sometimes they laugh out loud, sometimes they sit and smile, and you never know which type of audience you’ll have until you’re live.
If you’re going off a memorised presentation, it’s much more difficult to break away from that to go with the flow on the day, and respond naturally to your audience.
Do, however, memorise your opening line. If you know how you’re going to begin, you’ll get a strong start and that will build your confidence. Many speakers and stage actors find that the minute they’ve actually delivered their first line, the nerves are gone and they’re well into their stride.
Writing your presentation out in your own handwriting will help you clarify your ideas and may well bring you new ones.
Once you’re comfortable with your written notes, try practising by speaking off the cuff, with just the main bullet points to keep you to your outline.
As well as practising for the ideas and what you want to say, practise how you want your presentation to flow. Think of it almost as a symphony, with high points, slow movements and crescendos. If it’s important, think about how you want your audience to feel, what emotions you want them to have, and when.
Don’t be afraid to pause and use the power of silence. A good pause can have a huge emotional impact. It allows people to really absorb what you are saying and react, and it’s vital to pause if you’re using humour so that the next part of your presentation doesn’t get lost underneath people’s laughter.
For more on the 'Power of the Pause', watch this short from video Brian Tracy: The Power of the Pause
There’s nothing worse than the projector dying or finding that your laptop won’t communicate with the projector for some reason. If you know you have a backup, even if it’s only a pre-prepared flip chart, you’ll feel better, and you’ll be more confident.
Following on from that, arrive at least half an hour early so you aren’t feeling rushed, and so you have time to check your equipment and get your notes laid out ready to go. That gives you time to breathe and relax before you go on, knowing everything is as set as it can be.
Use physical props, if possible, for a demo. This can make you stand out and be more memorable among all the other speakers who only use PowerPoint, and it can add greatly to the impact of your presentation.
In many cases, you’ll probably have someone there to get the attention of the audience, and to introduce you. After that, you just have to wait until the applause stops, and launch into your presentation.
You might, on occasion find that you’re the one who has to get the attention of the crowd and introduce yourself. Don’t panic if that’s the case. People came to the event knowing that there would be a speaker, and they are generally polite, so be calm and confident, introduce yourself, and take the time to wait until most people are paying attention before you begin your presentation.
Welcome everyone with a ‘Thank you’, introduce yourself with an interesting bio, mentioning your experience, but also giving your audience an interesting fact or two about you, with some humour, if it’s your style and it’s appropriate to the audience.
Introduce your presentation, your aims for the audience, and what you hope they’ll get out of it. And at this point, you will probably want to mention how you’d like to deal with any questions.
Some speakers are great at breaking off during their presentation to answer questions, while others prefer to get to the end of their presentation and then take questions. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, but you’ll be more relaxed if you prepare the audience so you don’t suddenly get interrupted when you weren’t expecting it.
Nobody wants to be the presenter who bores everyone and sends the entire audience to sleep, so here are some opening tips to get the attention of your audience.
Just asking your audience to imagine something or think about ‘what if’ creates images in their minds, gets them thinking and gets them involved in what you’re saying.
Think about how powerful that is. If you look to the future, you can take the audience on a journey into what their future might look like, and if you talk about the past, you can use lessons from things that were done well, or things that didn’t work in the past.
Either way, you’re getting the audience to engage and use their imagination again.
If you don’t have a strong opening sentence in mind, quoting someone who already said exactly what you want to say can give you the confident opening you’re looking for.
Begin with a story about a time you made a mistake or didn’t get things exactly right, maybe even a time when you were a complete disaster if you have the confidence to share. It’s engaging, relatable, and oh, so human.
If you’re great at delivering a good joke, why not start your presentation like that? If you get the audience laughing from the start, you’ve got an instant ice breaker.
Similarly, with a good story, you can draw the audience in and have them eagerly waiting for what else you have to say.
Well known historical events are great for reference points, both to illustrate a point, and to get the audience using their imagination again.
Putting your finger right on your audience’s pain point is an excellent way to get their attention.
So is pointing out the opportunity they have for change or improvement.
A pre-prepared video can give you a really strong opening to your presentation, and get people to pay attention before you start speaking.
If it’s the right audience and you know they will be fine with it, why not tell an outrageous joke (obviously not anything that's offensive), do something unexpected like walk into the audience and talk to them, or even, if you have the skill, do a magic trick or two.
Use props that make them laugh, that they weren’t expecting. Sing part of your presentation. Whatever you can think of, ensure that it's entirely you, and that it fits the subject and the audience -don’t let them zone out from your presentation.
Don’t go overboard with too many stats or you could bore your audience, but well-chosen statistics can make your point for you.
Poll the room by asking for a show of hands, or ask direct or rhetorical questions to make your audience think. Pass a microphone around and let the audience help you bring out your solution. They’ll feel invested in your presentation if you get them involved.
These tips are great for a powerful presentation opening, but at least some of them can also be used throughout your presentation to intrigue, engage and make the audience feel the emotions you’re trying to evoke. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try different techniques and tips to find out what works for you.
And one final tip, nobody is perfect, and stressing yourself out by trying to deliver a completely perfect speech will just create anxiety that you really don’t need. Relax, prepare, do your best, and enjoy yourself. You might well make mistakes, but only you know what you should have said. As long as you carry the audience along, they won’t have any idea that the presentation should have gone any other way than it did.
If trying to work out how to start a presentation was a problem for you before, hopefully, with this set of tips, you’ll be feeling confident and ready to give the presentation of your life!