Steve Herbert
12 May

Your first words to the audience can make or break your presentation...

Have you ever picked up a book or magazine and been grabbed by the very first sentence? 

Most of us have, and it’s likely that you read further as a direct result of that opening. Indeed, many readers will continue to be involved right to the very end of the article.

Most will recognise the above as a truism, yet few business presentations harness the power of a good opening.  This is strange given that a presentation is only a visual (and more interactive) version of a written article. My years as a professional business to business (B2B) presenter suggest that most business presentations start off with the following three slides:

  • Title slide
  • Agenda
  • Speaker details (the “Who am I?” slide)

Now I grant you that all three are potentially useful – but they are unlikely to grab the audience’s attention.  And if you lose the audience at the start, you will have to work very hard to get them back on-side when you come to the really important parts of your message.

I have always been of the opinion that the first minute – and in particular the first 30 seconds – of your delivery impact on the success of the presentation. It’s vital that you grab the audience from the very first word or action to keep them with you for the remainder of your speech.

How can the novice presenter achieve this? I often find it useful to use the "dos and don’ts" approach. Let’s take that in reverse order…


  • start with an audible “um” (the engagement-lights will be going off around you!)
  • read the full title and agenda to the audience (they can see it – and are not stupid)
  • spend ages telling the audience about your company and/or how expert you are (they really won’t care until you start to demonstrate that you are actually worth listening to)


  • use the first 30 seconds to take control of the stage or webinar, and grab their attention (body language and/or animation can be key here)
  • highlight certain items on the agenda – and tell them why it’s going to be important that they pay attention to your message
  • find something to engage with the audience – they want to be entertained (not bored)

I would strongly urge any presenter to remember, and utilise, the above golden rules.

Openings are not easy, but they are really, really important.

And we end with the beginning. Some of my favourite literary first lines demonstrate how powerful a good opening can be:

“All children, except one, grow up”

“When a day you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.”

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

Best regards,


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