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How to start a presentation?

Before the start of a presentation, there’s always a moment of hesitation. The audience is beginning to get settled. Generally, the first-comers take the time to send a few emails while the latecomers are still looking for a seat. The murmur of conversations has begun and it’s up to the speaker to get everyone’s attention. We often read on the Internet that we should start a presentation with a joke. A more astute counsel would state that if you were not sure you could make people laugh, it would be wiser to avoid it. A joke that falls flat is the best way to make everyone uncomfortable, the speaker above all. Especially since the speaker’s role is not to entertain but to capture the audience’s attention and anchor the key messages.

In each group that is formed, our gregarious instincts drive us to distribute roles in a dominant/submissive frame of reference. These situations are not always easy to tackle, particularly where a rather “submissive” person has to address outright “dominant” personalities. But in practice it’s not an obstacle in giving an effective performance. Indeed, a presentation is neither a big oral exam nor entertainment. And the audience is neither a grand jury nor apathetic. The essential point in establishing contact is to put the audience in a position where it grants you its’ attention while at the same time, playing an indispensable role in the presentation.

We have already addressed “how to make a good first impression”, which is already one means of audience connection. Here are some concrete ways to create this connection and to ensure sustained attention to your presentation:

Share a conviction – The context surrounding the subject of the presentation could serve as a preamble, where speakers can express their feelings, state of mind, opinions or other worthy elements that brought them to speak.

An anecdote – Similarly, starting a presentation with a personal or professional anecdote can get you quickly to the heart of the matter and create a climate conducive to the flow of the presentation.

A question – We have often mentioned the strong impact questions exert on the brain. Posting a question on the screen is very effective in forcing the audience to take a stance and gives rise to expectations toward the speaker and the message.

A provocation – Within the limits of what is acceptable to the audience, it can be very effective to come right out and say it by affirming something that can surprise, divide or disturb. The reaction is always strong, but the rest of the presentation must be up to par.

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