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How To Start A Presentation (6 Do’s and Dont’s)

HowToStartAPresentation

If you’re worried about how to start a presentation at work, then good! You’re worried about the right thing. The start of your presentation can mean the difference between confused, bored looks or excited and interested people looking back at you. 

Let’s go through the 6 crucial mistakes you must avoid when starting a presentation and what to do instead.

Mistake #1: Speaking to “everyone” all the time

Trying to speak to everyone you can think of during your presentation is one of the most common mistakes you might be making when presenting… Because you’re speaking to a group, you may be tempted to cast a wide net and try to address everyone. But the problem is similar to creating a new product – if you don’t have a specific user in mind, you’ll create a product that doesn’t stand out to anyone. In the same way, your presentation will be diluted and you’ll end up with too much information.

What to Do Instead: Keep a specific person in mind 

Rather than speaking to a general audience, go narrow. Who is one person that would benefit from this presentation? Can you imagine them? We call this the Persona (imaginary) or Person (if it’s a real person you know) of the presentation. This helps you focus your content and ensures that your presentation will have at least one person that likes it.

Of course, by creating it for this one person, there will be other people in the audience like this one person as well. So don’t worry about leaving people out because they will all get something from your presentation.

Focusing on one person makes your language more focused and on point.

Mistake #2: Using your story to gain credibility 

“Good morning everyone. I’m Angie and I’m on the Product team here at Company x. I’ve been working in Product the last 10 years now and have a Master’s in Computer science and a background in logistics management as well. I’ve worked on lots of different projects that…” 

Have you ever done this before? Most professionals are used to introducing themselves in a presentation by giving a background on themselves. Notice the 2 issues by doing this right in the beginning: 1) the focus is now on you, not the audience, and 2) it seems like you’re trying to gain credibility. 

You don’t need to gain credibility in this way – you’re already in front of the group presenting! You have situational authority at that moment. That said, in certain situations, it’s relevant to provide some of your credentials because it helps you relate to the audience. Which leads us to what to do instead…

What to Do Instead: Relate yourself to the topic or audience 

relate to audience

For most presentations at work, the trick to introducing yourself is by relating yourself to the topic or audience, rather than just saying your name and role or your name and long backstory in a talk. 

Instead of that example above, you might say, “I’m Angie and I’ve been on the Product team at Company X for the past 3 years. And just like all of you, I spent many years of my career wondering how I could switch from Engineering into Product Management. So that’s why I’ll be talking about how to make that switch today.” 

By just adding one sentence, you can make your personal story relatable and compelling! So always ask yourself: Why do you care about this topic? How do you relate to your audience? 

And keep in mind, if you’re doing a presentation consistently and everyone knows you, it’s okay to skip this part entirely! 

Mistake #3: Jumping right into the content 

Too many professionals struggle with jumping into the weeds right away. You can’t do that, especially, if you’re presenting to executives and cross-functional teams who don’t have the context of your work. 

If you’ve ever been asked to “give more context”, then you have not on-ramped people properly and you’ll need to work on it. 

On the other hand, you might be giving too much background and going too deep into the weeds. This is where strategic communication comes in. 

What to Do Instead: State why you’re here, the benefits and the agenda 

statepresentationagenda

If there’s one thing we spend the most time on with 1-on-1 coaching clients, it’s leadership communication. Your ability to “up-level” what you’re talking about from a strategic point of view and go into details when necessary. 

When starting a presentation, first let the audience know why you’re there by simply stating your presentation topic. It sounds obvious, but it’s something you might forget at the moment if you’re nervous. 

After that, add why you’re talking about that particular topic — the key benefits for the team, company, or audience. This approach alone will have you stand out from everyone else. By on-ramping people with the right context, you will be influencing, not just presenting. And the context doesn’t have to be long. Just add 1-3 benefits of why this is important. 

In addition to setting the context, you can walk through the agenda. What are the 2, 3, or 4 subtopics you want to talk about?

This lets the audience know what to expect so they can focus on the content and not wonder where your presentation is headed. 2-4 subtopics are plenty. Remember, you want to engage your audience, not overwhelm them. If you have more, then reorganize the structure so it’s easier to digest. 

Here’s a full example: “I’m here to talk about the Product Roadmap for our consumer devices segment today (why you’re here). We want a major release by the end of the quarter so that we can capitalize on the momentum we’ve created with our pre-launch events earlier this year (why this is important). So I’ll be talking about 1) The Top Features for the release, 2) Major issues we expect and 3) Main responsibilities of our teams.” 

By adding these key elements, you’ll avoid speaking “in the weeds” and come across as confident and organized. 

Mistake #4: Coming in with the same level of energy as everyone else 

You want to have the same energy as your audience because you won’t be able to stand out from them. This is something that comes up for a lot of professionals and they may not even realize they’re doing it.

What To Do Instead: Come in at a higher energy level than your audience

highenergypresentation

The reason you want to come in with more energy than your audience is so that you catch their attention. Then you can keep them engaged easier once your higher energy has captured their focus. 

This higher energy does need to be calibrated and not over the top. You still want the high energy to be authentic. In the Delivery Bootcamp, we train professionals to have 1 -5 % higher energy than the audience.

Mistake #5: Looking away from the audience

Have you noticed someone starting a presentation without looking at the audience? You might be doing this too. 

Head turned down, up, away from the camera (if virtual), or looking back at the slides on the screen behind you.

It feels disengaging and turns the audience off from the beginning. The audience may feel as though they can ignore what you’re saying because it’s not important.

What you’re subtly conveying is that what you have to say isn’t significant. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter but that’s the perception the audience is getting. 

What To Do Instead: Immediately connect to an individual or look at the camera lens (if virtual)

connectinpresentation

This is important because then you’ll keep the audience engaged from the beginning. Looking at your audience keeps the social pressure on them to look back at you… 

When someone is looking at the camera (or at a single person or two) then the audience is aware of this and they feel like they have to be engaged with what that person is saying. 

So next time you’re starting a presentation, keep connected to one individual or by literally looking at the camera lens (if virtual). 

Mistake #6: Not getting audience participation 

Another common mistake professionals do is treat their presentation like a data dump without getting any engagement from the audience. 

This is not advised because then the audience may feel like you’re talking at them rather than being there speaking with them. 

What To Do Instead: Use enrolling questions, polls, exercises, etc.

Instead of jumping in the presentation you can do an enrolling question, which will get the audience’s participation right at first. 

What is an enrolling question? Very simple..

An enrolling question is a question that is a yes or no answer. An example would be: “how many of you would like to speak smarter on the spot?”

It’s an easy and obvious question that most people are going to raise their hand as well.

That’s one way you can get engagement right from the start. It’s not the only way but is a good starting point. If you want to learn more about enrolling questions, be sure to check out the Delivery Bootcamp. 

A summary of the 6 mistakes with their respective techniques: 

Mistake #1: Speaking to a “general audience” 

What to Do Instead: Keep a specific person in mind 

Mistake #2: Giving a long backstory about yourself 

What to Do Instead: Relate yourself to the topic or audience 

Mistake #3: Jumping right into the content 

What to Do Instead: State why you’re here, the benefits and the agenda 

Mistake #4: Coming in with the same level of energy as everyone else 

What To Do Instead: Come in at a higher energy level

Mistake #5: Looking away from the audience

What To Do Instead: Immediately connect to an individual or look at the camera lens (if virtual)

Mistake #6: Not getting audience participation 

What To Do Instead: Use enrolling questions, polls, exercises etc

For the next steps, just pick one or two of these that you think you need help in the most. Then apply the “what to do instead” techniques and keep practicing only those one or two for several weeks until you feel like you have it. 

Then improve on your next speaking technique. 

If you try to do too much at once you’ll just overload yourself, thus diminishing your performance.

Peter Khoury

Peter Khoury: Founder @ MagneticSpeaking X-Pharmaceutical Engineer, turned author, national speaker and executive presentation coach.

In addition to Public Speaking training, Peter is a regular speaker on the topics of Negotiations, Conflict Management and Leadership. He is the author of the book “Self-Leadership Guide.