Starting a Presentation: as Easy as A, B, C, … and D

Whether you give a presentation to a small group of coworkers or an audience of thousands, the first five minutes are always the most important. If you can’t get the audience on your side at the beginning, you have no chance of keeping their interest later. So how can you start your presentation effectively? The answer is as simple as A, B, C, D.

First of all, you need to attract their attention. Some presenters start with a joke or a story; others show a powerful picture or some amazing statistics. But the simplest way of getting people’s attention is to ask a question that really makes them think. For example, you might ask, “What do you think are the most important skills that businesspeople need in the 21st century?” Ask a few people from the audience to suggest some ideas — this will make them feel involved in your presentation, and they’ll want to hear what the “correct” answers are.

Once you’ve got your audience’s attention, you need to tell them what benefit they’ll get out of your presentation. In other words, how will they be better off after your presentation than before it? For example, you might say, “By the end of my presentation, I hope you’ll have a much better understanding of …, which will mean you can …”. If you can’t think of a clear benefit for your audience, perhaps you shouldn’t be doing the presentation at all!

Another important job for the beginning of a presentation is to establish your credibility. In other words, why should anybody care what you have to say? Here, it’s good to be a little modest. Don’t try to impress them with your qualifications, your job title, or your talents. Focus instead on your experiences, good and bad. So you might say, “I’ve learned lots of lessons over the years, and I’d like to share some of those with you today, so you won’t have to make the same mistakes that I made.”

Finally, you need to show the audience the direction and structure of your presentation. Tell them how the presentation will be organized and what points you will cover. For example, you can say, “I’ll start by talking about …; then I’ll explain …; next I’ll describe two examples of …; and finally I’ll give some practical advice on how to …”. This will help them to understand how all your points relate to each other, so they’ll be better able to follow and remember your presentation as you speak. But if there’s no sense of direction in your talk, the audience will get completely lost.

Note: Articles published here are done so without the learning materials and functionality provided on our native platform. To continue improving your business English with The Wall Street Journal, please register for your free 30 day trial and Learning Team Newsletter.

Originally published at