How to start a presentation: 5 effective ways

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You’re about to click on the Zoom link, walk into a meeting room, or step onto a stage where you’ll be addressing hundreds of people. Wherever you’re presenting, once you’re in that spotlight, you should already know how to start off a presentation. If you’re hoping to wing it, think twice. The first few minutes (and even seconds) of your presentation are more crucial than you think.

A study by Microsoft regarding transient attention spans found that the average attention span for people is only around 8 seconds (in the study, it refers to the average time spent on a web page). It doesn’t mean that each of us can only focus for 8 seconds, but it means that we need to develop curiosity in these 8 seconds to continue listening, watching, or reading. If that doesn’t up the stakes for your intro, we don’t know what does. 

If you’ve successfully engaged your audience in the first 8 seconds, you still need to keep them as interested as possible. We all know how easy it is to lose attention in today’s information-saturated environment. 

So, before stepping on stage, whether virtually or in person, carefully plan out the first few minutes to capture your audience’s attention. Learn how to start a presentation with these five tips so you can grab and hold your audience’s attention throughout your presentation.

#1 Start with an eye-catching visual

Did you know that our brains process visual information 60,000 times faster than text? This makes visuals an excellent strategy for how to start a presentation, engaging your audience right from the beginning.

For example, instead of opening with a sentence, saying how much plastic is dumped in our oceans every year, showcase an image of The Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean. You can accompany your image with a sentence or two, pointing out some shocking numbers and facts to really drive your point home. With a visual, you’ll be able to make a greater impact and evoke strong emotions that will captivate your audience. 

plastic floating in the ocean

You can also showcase a short clip of the garbage patch or display a data visualization with a shocking statistic. Consider what kind of visual showcases the subject matter best and what makes the most impact. 

If you’re presenting online, avoid sharing your screen to showcase your visuals. The extra time it takes to share your screen can also create an awkward pause and make your presentation less exciting. Plus, you’ll be hidden behind your content, so people won’t be able to read your emotions or body language while you speak. Instead, show your visuals next to you using Prezi Video, our video presentation software. You’ll be able to easily go from topic to topic while maintaining eye contact with your audience, making your presentation much more engaging. If you want to give Prezi Video a try, create your first video here or watch this video to see it in action:

#2 Tell a story

Storytelling is a powerful technique to engage your audience and stir emotions, making it an excellent strategy for how to start off a presentation. Starting your presentation with a story can take your audience to a different time and place, and fully immerse them in the topic you’re about to cover. A study on neural coupling found that people’s brain waves can start to synchronize with those of the storyteller as they’re listening to the story unfold. So, not only can you mentally transport your audience to a time and place of your choosing, but you can also literally be on the same wavelength. 

To make this fascinating impact, you can’t just start telling a story without thinking about the plot line and the way you’re going to go about it. You’ll have to practice your storytelling skills beforehand and go over the plotline several times to get it right. 

It’s important to choose a story that reflects what your presentation is going to be about. For example, talk about your personal experience or mention a historical event, but always tie it in with what you’re going to present. It’s best to keep it short so your audience doesn’t get bored or distracted. 

To enhance your storytelling, use visuals, like images or videos. You can also add some entertaining aspects to your story by including stickers or GIFs.

Elena Valentine shows how to start a presentation with a story in her video. See how she grabs attention here, and watch till the end for more storytelling tips.

Incorporating Prezi into storytelling elevates this experience, transforming narratives into visually captivating journeys. Prezi’s dynamic platform allows speakers to integrate visuals seamlessly into their stories, from compelling images and engaging videos to interactive stickers and GIFs. This visual integration serves not just as decoration but as a narrative enhancement, providing visual cues that enrich the storytelling, making abstract concepts tangible, and emotionally charging the narrative.

Prezi’s non-linear presentation format is particularly suited for storytelling. Unlike traditional slide-based tools, Prezi offers the freedom to navigate through the story in a way that mimics the human thought process — fluid and interconnected. To make your storytelling with Prezi more effective and engaging, consider these easy-to-follow tips:

Use pictures and videos smartly

Pick pictures, videos, and animations that fit well with what you’re talking about. Prezi lets you zoom in and move around these visuals at the right times, making your main points more interesting and easier to remember for your audience.

Make your story flexible

Set up your Prezi so you can move around your story, not just go straight from the start to the end. This way, you can change parts of your talk based on what your audience seems to like or pay attention to, making your presentation more lively and fun.

Show how things link together

With Prezi, you can place parts of your story in certain spots to show how they’re related. This helps make tricky ideas simpler and your overall presentation more powerful because it’s clearer how everything fits together.

#3 Involve your audience

Involving your audience is how to start a presentation in the most interactive way possible. Active participation is great for establishing a closer connection with your listeners and obtaining their attention right away. 

Confident businessman presenting an investor pitch deck.

Connect with a personal anecdote

An effective method to start a presentation is by weaving in a personal anecdote that is both relevant and relatable. This technique fosters an immediate connection with your audience, as personal stories resonate more deeply, making your message more memorable. By sharing a bit of your own experience, you break down the barriers between speaker and audience, inviting them into your world from the first words you speak.

Captivate with a bold opening statement

As you brainstorm how to start off a presentation, think about setting the stage with a bold statement or provocative claim related to your topic. This method instantly grabs your audience’s attention and sparks curiosity about where your argument or narrative will lead. Following this opening with a brief overview of what led you to this conclusion or claim helps to build anticipation and prepares your audience for the journey ahead, making them more invested in the presentation from the very beginning.

Engage with a question

One of the simplest ways to involve your audience is to ask a question. For example, you can ask: “Who has ever felt anxious about public speaking? Raise your hand!” In a virtual presentation, you can ask the same question and ask people to respond in the chat. If you’re using Prezi Video, your team will be able to react with a “waving hand” emoji that appears next to them in their video feed. See how it works.

women standing in front of an audience and presenting

Make sure to ask a relevant question that ties in with your topic and will get a reaction from the audience. For example, don’t say: “Raise your hand if you’re always on the edge of your seat.” It’s doubtful that you’ll get a huge reaction from your audience as this statement refers to a very small group of people. Also, avoid open-ended questions, like “How are you feeling today?” or “What do you think about this topic?” right at the beginning of your presentation – you’ll probably just get an awkward silence. People need to warm up to answering or asking questions, that’s why it’s best to ask questions in the middle of your presentation or towards the end.

Resonating with your audience demands thoughtful preparation and insight into their preferences and knowledge. Opt for questions and interactions that spark curiosity, stir emotions, or challenge viewpoints, always linking back to your main message. This ensures that your audience is deeply engaged and actively contributing to the discussion, rather than passively observing.

But the potential of Prezi to foster audience involvement extends far beyond simple Q&A. Live feedback loops and collaborative brainstorming sessions can all be done within the Prezi platform, turning each presentation into a dynamic, participatory event. This level of interaction not only keeps the audience engaged but also allows the presenter to tailor the content in real-time, responding to the audience’s interests and questions.

#4 How to start a presentation by showing a shocking statistic

Did you know that 71% of mobile users in the U.S. usually sleep next to their phones? Or that Millennial smartphone users in the U.S. unlock their devices about 63 times a day? It looks like the strongest relationship many of us will have is with our phones. 

Grab their attention by making your presentation more interactive

The impact of a shocking statistic

Starting your presentation with a shocking statistic is a great way to capture your audience’s attention from the get-go and introduce the topic right away. To make an even greater impact with the statistic, include a data visualization that illustrates the numbers in an engaging way. Again, visual components will work in your favor to help your audience comprehend the information and make it more memorable. Also, make sure to use visual metaphors like icons or stickers to make your data visualizations more appealing to the eye. 

The innovative tools of Prezi

The platform’s innovative tools offer a way to present data that is not just informative but also inspiring. This not only captures your audience’s attention from the start but also keeps them engaged throughout your presentation. Through Prezi, your presentation becomes more than a collection of facts and figures; it becomes a compelling story that educates, entertains, and resonates with your audience, leaving a lasting impression long after the presentation concludes.

Try this template

Begin with a problem statement

Those who know how to start off a presentation with a hook are good at evoking curiosity. You can do it, too. Introduce a problem that you’ll solve during your presentation. Point to a topical issue that your audience can relate to, state it in the first moments of your presentation, and accompany it with visuals. 

Starting with a problem statement will put your audience into action mode to try to solve it. They’ll be curious to know possible solutions and your take on it. Introducing a problem that you know a lot of people are struggling with is especially effective in holding everyone’s attention. You want the audience to care about the issue and want to solve it. For example, if you’re talking about climate change, make it more personal by pointing out how it can and will affect everyone individually. Bringing the problem closer to our daily lives and experiences will intensify the need to solve it and people will be interested to know more about possible solutions. 

Kicking off your presentation with a problem statement is a masterful way to immediately engage your audience and set a compelling tone for your discourse. Here’s how to begin a presentation by focusing on a problem statement:

Craft a compelling problem statement

Begin by introducing a topical issue that resonates with your audience. This approach is pivotal in learning how to start a presentation with impact. State the problem within the first few moments, and accompany it with striking visuals to dramatize the issue further. This strategy not only grabs attention but also sets the stage for a solution-oriented discussion, making your presentation immediately relevant and engaging.

Make it personal

Connect the problem to everyday experiences to intensify the audience’s need to find a solution. By making the issue relatable, you ensure that your audience cares deeply about the subject, thereby heightening their engagement and interest in the potential solutions you will discuss.

A group of charity workers handing out materials with their brand colors.

Use narratives

Incorporate stories or case studies that highlight the problem’s effects on individuals or communities. Personal anecdotes or narratives can transform abstract issues into tangible realities for your audience, fostering a deeper emotional connection to the topic at hand.

Transition to solutions with hope

After setting up the problem, shift towards presenting viable solutions in an empowering manner. Showcase how individuals or communities have successfully addressed the issue, offering your audience a clear path to action and involvement.

End with a strong call to action

Conclude the opening segment of your presentation with a clear and motivating call to action. Be specific about what your audience can do to contribute to solving the problem, leaving them feeling inspired and equipped to make a difference.

By integrating these strategies into the way you begin your presentation, you emphasize not just the importance of the initial moments but also your commitment to engaging your audience deeply and meaningfully. Understanding how to start a presentation with a clear problem statement, personal connection, and a pathway towards solutions can set the tone for a memorable and impactful session.

Maximizing engagement: beyond the opening of your presentation

Starting your presentation right is crucial. It defines how much attention your audience will dedicate to your speech and slides. It also establishes how confident you’ll feel and appear in front of everyone. For example, if at the beginning of your presentation you get lost in your story or appear underprepared, you’ll get anxious and the audience will notice it (and it may just go downhill from there). You want to avoid that scenario at all costs. So, preparing how to start off a presentation ahead of time will ensure that you make the best of the first 8-plus seconds that you have to wow everyone in the audience. Regarding confidence, we have a great video on public speaking tips to build your confidence by the founder and CEO of Soulcast Media, Jessica Chen.

To further enrich your presentation and ensure it remains engaging from start to finish, consider these additional strategies for maintaining audience interest throughout your presentation.

Integrate interactive technologies

In today’s digital era, leveraging technology can significantly boost audience engagement. Tools like live polls, interactive quizzes, and social media prompts can transform your presentation into a dynamic conversation. For example, you could use a live poll to gauge the audience’s initial thoughts or feelings about the issue. This not only makes the presentation more interactive but also provides valuable insights into your audience’s perspectives, allowing you to tailor your content in real-time.

Foster an environment of collaboration

Encouraging collaboration among your audience can amplify the impact of your presentation. After setting the stage with a compelling problem statement and engaging visuals, invite your audience to share their own experiences or solutions related to the problem. This can be facilitated through breakout sessions, discussion forums, or collaborative workshops. By creating a collaborative environment, you empower your audience to become part of the solution, enhancing the relevancy and impact of your presentation.

Utilize story arcs to maintain engagement

Building on the initial storytelling, structure your presentation around a clear story arc, including a beginning that introduces the problem, a middle that explores the problem’s implications and potential solutions, and an end that encourages action and resolution. This narrative structure can help keep your audience engaged by providing a clear, cohesive journey through your presentation. Each segment of your presentation should build on the previous, leading your audience to a satisfying conclusion that reinforces your key messages and call to action.

Visual consistency and branding

Maintaining visual consistency throughout your presentation helps reinforce your message and enhances brand recognition. Use a consistent color scheme, font, and style in your visuals and slides. This visual branding can be subtle, but it plays a crucial role in creating a professional and cohesive presentation. Prezi offers the flexibility to customize your presentation’s design to align with your brand or theme, ensuring that every aspect of your presentation reflects your message and identity.

Reinforce key points with repetition and callbacks

To ensure that your audience retains the key points of your presentation, use repetition and callbacks throughout your talk. Revisit the main topics and the solutions you’ve proposed at various points, especially before transitioning to new sections. This technique helps reinforce the importance of the problem and the value of the solutions you’re presenting, making it more likely that your audience will remember them after the presentation concludes.

Close with a memorable conclusion

Your presentation’s conclusion should be as strong as its beginning. End with a powerful call to action that inspires your audience to take the next steps. Whether it’s adopting a new perspective, changing behavior, or contributing to a cause, make sure your audience leaves with a clear understanding of how they can make a difference.

Smiling african woman giving presentation at startup. Happy female professional standing in front of a large television screen with a graph.

By weaving these strategies into your presentation, from a compelling start to a powerful conclusion, you ensure that your presentation is not just heard but felt and remembered. Engaging your audience from the first moment and maintaining that engagement is key to delivering a presentation that not only informs but inspires and motivates change. This holistic approach to presentation design and delivery underscores the importance of every moment and interaction, setting the stage for a truly impactful session. 

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