How to Start a Presentation: 13 Strategies to Hook Your Audience

Public Speaking . 8 Min. Read . By: Devon Brown

When it comes to giving a speech, whether you’re a public speaker or trying to pitch an idea to a boardroom, the hardest part tends to be the start of it.

So much hangs on your ability to start your speech and grab the listener’s attention immediately. If you take a few minutes to really get to the good stuff, the audience is already drifting off and thinking about other things. It really does impact your entire speech for better or worse.

If you’re struggling to come up with an effective and powerful introduction for your speech, I have 13 tips on how to start a presentation that is going to get you over that initial hurdle and grab your audience’s attention immediately.

1: Introduce Yourself In A Way That Lets Them Know “W.I.I.F.M.”

W.I.I.F.M. stands for “What’s In It For Me?” This is, more often than not, the primary thought on your audiences mind. 

They don’t care where you’re from…

They don’t care how many years you were in school…

They don’t care how many awards you’ve won.

OK, maybe I’m being a little dramatic. After all, social proof is important. But the point I’m making is that the primary thing anyone in an audience cares about how you being in front of them is going to benefit THEM

I’m not saying that the audience is mean or shallow, I’m simply acknowledging human nature. And if we understand that what they really want to know is how you being on stage will improve their life, then that’s an opportunity to introduce yourself in a way that lets them know what’s in it for them.

So, when you’re opening your speech, as opposed to saying….

“My name is so and so and I achieved (insert big result here) in only 3 years”…

Instead say…

“My name is so and so and I achieved (insert big result here) in only 3 years, and I’m going to show you the shortcut to making it happen for yourself in less time than I did!”

See how that works?

We took your intro and we made it about what THEY’RE going to get out of it!

2: Use Ice Breakers Early On

You know that you’re nervous before giving a speech. I don’t blame you! You’re about to talk to a large crowd. However, your audience might be a little anxious, as well. They don’t know you, and they don’t know what to expect.

A great way to get comfortable with each other more quickly is to start with an Ice Breaker.

Some example Icebreakers could include:

  • Having a funny picture as your first slide
  • Telling them a crazy story that just happened
  • Telling them an industry related (appropriate) joke. You can literally just google this 
  • Telling them a self-deprecating joke
  • Having them high-five each other
  • Admitting that you're nervous
  • Talk about the weather (especially if it's abnormal)
  • Giving them a small present just for showing up 
  • Having them turn to their neighbor and say "I'm excited to hear (your name here)"
  • Asking a few "raise your hand if" questions
  • Breaking some news. For example, maybe you just got married or had a child.

I think you get the idea.

The point is that ice breakers are a great way to overcome nerves and start a speech.

3: Make a Relevant Quote

This opening to a speech is so frequently used that it’s almost cliché. However, there’s a reason for that. It works!

Take some time to think about the end goal of your speech.

What are you trying to convince people of? 

Are you trying to sell the latest advancement in technology? If so, maybe start with a quote about the future and how bright it can be.

Or maybe your speech is about helping people get back on their feet. If this is the case, a quote about overcoming adversity is a good start.

Find a quote that resonates with that theme and goal and open your speech with a bang.

 4: Leverage Statistics

For most speeches, opening with a statistic can be very impactful.

Let’s say you’re trying to pitch an idea for a revolutionary new communication device. You might open with a statistic covering the number of emergency calls that don’t reach law enforcement fast enough. Something that naturally latches onto the audience’s emotions and shows that the topic is something they need to listen to.

5: Question the Audience

A good conversation is much more than just rambling in the audience's general direction. It's a back-and-forth effort.

You can help pull the audience in by

simply asking them a question.

You can help pull the audience in by simply asking them a question. Using my previous example for statistics, maybe you’d opt to ask the audience how many times they had to call the police in the last year, and then you could go into how many people did the same thing without the call going through.

This engages the audience and makes your presentation more than just a speech. It’s a conversation; even though it’s impractical to engage everyone one-on-one.

6: Open with a Story

Story is one of the most powerful tools a speaker can use. And if you’re giving a particularly emotional presentations, it can work wonders.

The best event emcees open the conversation with a personal anecdote or a story about a first-hand experience. The best wedding toasts tell stories of the bride or groom. The beast motivational speakers consistently use story to drive home a point.


Well… story does a few things. 

First, it humanizes you or your topic. When you use story, you're more than just some person presenting an idea.

Next, and more importantly, story takes your listener on a journey. This “hooks” your audience and compels them to listen and be attentive.

Bottom line, story rocks!

7: Appeal to Their Pain Points

This is a strategy often used in marketing. Every product or idea is typically designed with a particular problem in mind. Few things are just pulled out of thin air for the sole purpose of existing.

The problem is called a “pain point”. This is what is causing problems in your target audience’s life.

If you open by explaining the problem you’re trying to solve, you connect the audience to the conversation and show them that you know what they’re going through. This is the perfect way to present whatever it is you’re pushing as the solution.

8: Ask the Audience to Paint a Mental Picture

This is another popular tip on how to start a presentation that borders on cliché but is extremely effective. You open your presentation by asking the audience to think about something. For example, imagine you’re trying to revolutionize how cities are laid out to accommodate better public transportation and walking paths.

You might ask the audience to imagine being able to casually hop on an electric scooter at any point in their journey, not have to deal with cars and get to their destination twice as fast.

When you ask your audience to paint a mental picture, they’re engaging more parts of their brain. This, in turn, makes them more open, receptive, and attentive.

9: Open with Silence

This is one that is frequently leveraged by teachers. When students are rowdy, not paying attention, or otherwise not prepared to participate, the teacher will stand silently and make eye contact. The students expect the teacher to talk, get curious, and pay attention.

You can use the same exact to ensure all eyes are on you at the start of the presentation. You draw all the attention to yourself, and you don’t have to worry about anyone not paying attention. However, it can backfire. You’re not trying to get the attention of rowdy kids. You’re trying to make an impact on people who willingly came to listen to you. So don’t go overboard with this one.

10: Use Visuals

With proper planning and material acquisition, you can open your presentation with a bang just by presenting a stunning visual that highlights the topic. This grabs the audience’s attention, gives you an easy way to start talking by explaining it, and it conveys a lot of information non-verbally.

11: Demonstrate

Of course, few things engage an audience more than actually showing them how something works. You can open your presentation with a demonstration if the presentation is related to a product or something similar that has a real-world counterpart you can show off.

This is harder to do with some topics, though.

12: Tell the Story that Led You Here

When you get up on that stage, you have a whole lifetime of experiences and choices that got you to that point. In some situations, telling that story to explain why you’re so passionate about the topic at hand is powerful.

For example, there are public speakers who are former convicts. Many of their speeches open with the story of their life, the hard times that came from certain decisions, how they turned it all around, and what made them want to start giving speeches.

It’s not appropriate all the time, but it can be powerful when it is a good option!

13: Use a Video Introduction

Finally, in a world with increasingly short attention spans, opening with a video can be a great option. As long as the information depicted in the video is relevant, high-intensity, and enthusiastic, this can be a great way to instantly grab the audience’s attention, convey a lot of information, and give you an easy bridge to start speaking. 

If you found these tips on how to start a presentation useful, make sure to check out the world’s most complete public speaking course and become the best public speaker in virtually any room you walk into.

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If you want to know how to be the best public speaker in virtually any room you walk into, check out the world's most complete public speaking course below.

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Devon Brown (“Duh-Von” not “Dev-in”) is a speaker, author, entrepreneur, former hip-hop dancer, and World's #1 Event Emcee. Once described as a sort-of ‘MC Hammer meets Tony Robbins’; his style is 50% education, 50% entertainment, and 100% must-experience. Be sure to connect with Devon on social media.

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