• Scott Stiefvater

3 Do's and Don'ts of Opening a Presentation.

Some people argue that the opening is the most critical part of a presentation. I don't think that's a helpful mindset. Assigning more value to the beginning or the end of a presentation is just license to be mediocre in the middle. Nevertheless, the opening moments of a presentation provide a unique opportunity to grab your listeners so that you can deliver maximum impact with the time and attention they give you.The following do's and don'ts are meant to guide you in using those moments wisely:

Skip the resume dump.

There is a common misguided belief that, in order to get an audience to want to listen, you must first establish your credibility, and that the best way to do that is to explain what you do and what you've accomplished. There are two problems with that approach. First, the engagement you stand to gain through credibility is often lost through audience disinterest. In other words, listeners generally don't care that much about you and your accomplishments. Second, credibility isn't just earned at the beginning and set; it's fluid and it's fostered throughout your presentation by your content and how you deliver it.

Make it audience-centric.

Showing an audience that this is going to be about them doesn't necessarily foster credibility, but it does foster to equally powerful forces: trust and rapport. When considering how to open your presentation, spend a lot of thought on your listeners:

  • What is their world like?

  • What are they struggling with?

  • What are your goals for them?

However you choose to start a presentation, make sure it puts the audience before you and before the subject matter. Put the audience first.

No warm-up allowed.

Don't give yourself permission to use the opening to get comfortable and energized. Why start off stiff, flat or unsettled? The opening isn't for you to warm up. It is a moment for your audience to be drawn in to listening to you.

Make it a vertical take-off.

Don't spend much time, if any, setting the context. Is it really necessary to go over the agenda? Don't give them a preview of the coming attraction, jump into the first scene.

Rather than a long slow taxi down the runway, hit the jets and take-off.

Show them this going to be riveting. And be focused and expressive from the start. Warm-up before you begin speaking speaking: breath, do some pushups, talk to yourself, etc. The moment you begin your talk, it's game time.

Don't always start with a go-to technique.

You may have a technique that suits you well and seems to work for your audience, a technique like starting with a story. But the audience and other game-time variables change too much to warrant the same approach each time. And going to the same technique can put you in your comfort zone.

Challenge yourself.

You might be thinking that it's good to feel comfortable (as opposed to being nervous) when you start a talk. I would say, it's good to be in control but to be a little on edge like an athlete before a big competition. Take a small risk. Do something creative. A story, a question, a statement, a quote...they're all possibilities. Push yourself to do something new and unique. That is what your listeners really want.


© 2021 by Scott Stiefvater,

(anti) Presentation Coach


Tel: 925-586-3517

San Francisco Bay Area


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