How to Make a Dynamic First Impression in Your Innovative Presentations

By Ray Anthony, Barbara Boyd

Regardless of whether you choose a mild or slightly wild start to your innovative presentation, your introduction should highlight your credibility, professionalism, and expertise and get your group’s ears, eyes, and minds focused on your topic. First impressions can be fragile and that’s why getting it right from the get-go is critical.

Saint Jérôme put it in colorful perspective, “Early impressions are hard to eradicate from the mind. When once wool has been dyed purple, who can restore it to its previous whiteness?”

In Ray’s advanced presentation training workshops, he asks participants to share metaphors that describe a really effective introduction from a unique perspective. Read a few of the responses he has gotten:

“It’s like the first bite into delicious food from a great restaurant, whether it’s an appetizer or entree. Wow … your taste buds explode with pleasure and expectation of more — what yet is to come.”

“Experiencing a great speaker from the start is like the takeoff of a plane. Your adrenaline kicks in even if you are sitting down!”

“I have a powerful Ducati motorcycle. When you twist the throttle to accelerate, it’s amazing how incredibly smooth, yet thrilling, the “launch” is. Presentation introductions should be like that.”

Use these guidelines to develop your own dynamic and effective introductions:

  • Make it dynamic. Nothing is worse for a group than to hear a presentation start off in a dry, boring fashion such that they feel they have to put up with 30 or 45 minutes of dreadfully droning pain. So ask yourself:

    • How can I immediately grab the attention and interest of my group?

    • What methods can I use to ignite their intellectual and emotional response right from the start?

  • Keep it concise. A lumbering, long-winded introduction of your topic is a recipe for failure. As a general rule, limit your introduction to between one and three minutes before going into your topic. Some experts recommend a flexible, approximate five-percent rule, which says that in an hour-long presentation, your introduction should be about three to four minutes — or about five percent of the allotted time.

  • Be confident and cordial. Audiences really enjoy a speaker who is relaxed, comfortable, and confident from the very beginning.

    Even if you are somewhat nervous, you can fake it by starting off with a strong voice volume, a slower speech rate, a smile, and good direct eye contact with your audience — look at someone who’s smiling or friendly to boost your courage. People respect a speaker who comes across as confidently in charge without being domineering, authoritative, or smug.

  • Avoid credibility and image killers. We’re sure that you’ve seen business presenters or public speakers say things like, “I’m not really an expert in this area. I was chosen to fill in for (name) who could not make it. So I will try to get through this presentation using his slides that I’m not totally familiar with.”

    Or, “I am feeling very nervous right now, so please bear with me because I had to quickly put together this presentation and there may be some minor errors in the slides.”

    Never start off with an apology, an admission of being inadequate, unworthy, or unqualified (in any way). Don’t alert the group, who may otherwise not notice what you perceive as being nervous or unprepared.

  • Connect with your audience. Accomplished presenters strive to get their audiences to like, respect, and trust them right away.

    It may sound like a monumental task to accomplish all three in the first few minutes in front of a group that’s never seen you before, but using a friendly speaking style, demonstrating your good intentions, and giving a natural and sincere opening puts the group at ease while arousing their interest at the same time.