Bad Ways to Start a Presentation

Sometimes we hear presenters—both within our workshops and in the real world—who try to lower our expectations before they even get started. They open by saying things like “I’m not really very good at this” or “I’m not exactly the world’s greatest expert on this topic” or even “I’m sorry I didn’t really get time to proof my slides.”

You can put any of these phrases into the category of “bad ways to start your presentation.” When we say “bad”, we mean these are ways to turn off your listeners, ruin your credibility, and lose any chance you had of convincing an audience that you have a good idea. We’re talking BAD!

To be an effective speaker, you need to attract positive attention to an important presentation the moment you open your mouth. Openings are for demonstrating your expertise, showing your confidence, entertaining your audience a bit, and causing them to sit up and say WOW! We encourage presenters to get to their message quickly, and to have a well-planned opener (a POW! statement) that gets peoples’ attention.

But so many speakers deserve an F for their openings; here are a few that qualify for that failing grade:

Thanking everyone for everything. Many speakers think they need to start with pleasantries, such as thanking everyone for coming, thanking them for taking time out of their busy days, thanking the event host…you get the idea. We include “thank-yous” as a bad way to start your presentation because it practically invites your audience to tune out or check their email. (If you really think it’s critical to say thank you, do it elsewhere in your speech, but not at the beginning.)

Ladies and gentlemen…” We often hear people who start by addressing people and groups individually, as in “Ladies, gentlemen, friends, and everyone else out there… “ This type of opening is a formality that occasionally has its place but is usually a time-waster and a potential land mine if you accidentally leave someone out. Unless you’re giving the State of the Union speech or are Marc “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” Antony, skip this one.

“I’m sorry.” There’s usually nothing to apologize for, even if you left a few slides out of your deck or had to take your tie off because you dribbled mustard on it over lunch. If the room’s too warm, the sound system crackly, or the program running late, that’s usually not something you caused, and you still want them to listen to you. So DON’T apologize! If there’s really an issue that you need to address, find a better time than as you open your presentation.

Repeat what is already known. You also don’t need to introduce or identify yourself when you’ve already been introduced by someone else, or when your name and title are up on the screen or clearly written in the program. In the context of your speech, you can pull out some personal nuggets or remind your audience of something they have experienced, but don’t rehash what they’ve already heard.

In our ongoing attempt to rid the world of boring presentations, we’re always interested in hearing good or bad examples of opening lines of presentations, so please share any introductions that stand out. Remember, this is a slow process—we’re doing it one speaker at a time!

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David Steuart
Quality Director, The Walsh Group

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