All good speeches should start with a joke, right?

Wrong! It’s a common myth that presentations should start with a joke to get people warmed up and engaged. But what to you want to get them engaged with? A joke that could go wrong or backfire? Are you comfortable telling jokes? Before you even think about a joke, be clear on these things:

  • Your audience
  • The context and your message
  • You and your style of presenting or speaking

Your audience

Do you know them, are they used to working with you or are you speaking to people who don’t know you? This will also have an impact on the start of your presentation. It may be appropriate to start by introducing yourself. If it’s the case that the audience don’t know you – you’ll need to build in time to read them, make sure they are engaged.

Context

This is all important, presentations can range from pay rises to redundancies so you must speak in a tone that is appropriate. You may have a more upbeat and jocular style, and know that people like you for this, but if the context of your presentation is sensitive, you will need to adjust your tone and style accordingly. Your opening will set the tone of the presentation so this needs to reflect the context from the start.

Your style

Be aware of your own style, how do you normally communicate? If you are serious and factual, stick to your natural style, and add emphasis according to the context of the message.  Don’t feel pressured to emulate someone else, it will come across as insincere and will put you under more pressure! If you are more open, relaxed and jokey and try to be too serious it won’t work so present in a way that suits you. To present well you need to be able to speak with confidence, and the added pressure of trying to be something you’re not could ruin your presentation.

Whatever your personal style you need to start your presentation clearly, remember you need to communicate your style to the audience, clearly cover the key message and outline the benefit the audience will gain from listening. Always ask yourself ‘What is the one thing you’d like them to remember?’ Be clear on that and you’ll keep focused.

Here are some ideas for opening presentations, remember to keep in line with the context and message, your own style and the audience:

  • A joke? Only if it’s appropriate, and you are confident your audience will appreciate it and you can pull it off!
  • Something to frame your topic, an interesting fact, statistic or image ‘Did you know …’
  • Preview the end ‘When this presentation is over, you’ll really understand …’
  • An image or video can work well as an opening. They are immediately visually engaging and can help set the tone.
  • Just introduce yourself and get to it, this may be the best option!

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