How to Begin Your Presentation Before You Say a Word

Practice speech

There is a saying, “If you want to give a brilliant talk, open and close well and don’t screw it up in between.”

It stretches things a bit, but the saying offers more practical wisdom than you might think.  Consider the “serial position” in psychology, which says that when given a list of information and later asked to recall that information, the information at the beginning (primacy) and the information at the end (recency) are more likely to be recalled than the items in the middle.

These eleven tips will help you open your presentation long before you take the podium.

Before you leave home

First, let’s begin at the real beginning, which is a month out from your presentation.

1. Practice delivering your talk in your own words and ask the help of a coach or someone who can give you good feedback. Submerge your psyche in your material so completely that you can have a conversation about it.  Avoid memorizing and the canned-sound of sentence structure. The goal is to work from a few bullets, not a script.  If you are dependent upon a script, you are not ready.

2. Every moment you spend learning about your audience, you increase the odds that your talk will be a success.  Interview the event planner in depth about how the event is being promoted, the other speakers and overall expectations. Ask to be connected with an influencer in the group who would be willing to talk with you about the issues that are most relevant to the audience.

3. Devise the introduction that the person who will introduce you will use. It’s best to have someone introduce you in an upbeat, concise way. Long introductions are boring. Send a short intro in advance that answers the questions, “Why this topic, Why this speaker,” and ask that it be adhered to, period.

4. In a traditional setting, it is the job of the person introducing you is to stay at the front of the room until you get there, shake your hand and exit. If the individual leaves as you approach, there’s a disconnect for the audience. Their eyes will bounce back and forth between you and the introducer. Cover all this with the individual who will introduce you.

Before the event

5. Visit the room hours before the event for the purpose of “owning” the space.  Walk the room and the stage. Talk to the A/V team and run a sound check. Be friendly but insist on a wireless mic that will allow you to move away from the podium.

6. Dress for the audience and always err on the side of being tad more formal versus more casual than your listeners. Either way, wear clothes that allow you to feel free about movement. Consider a spot for the lapel mic and don’t wear anything that will “compete” with your message. Watch out for tight shoes or spike heels. The last thing you want to worry about is whether or not you will make it up the stage step without tripping.

7. Arrive at least one hour before show time. Mingle and meet people. Never roll in last minute and jump start your presentation with a room full of strangers.

Before you take the front of the room

8. Many speakers scamper to the front of the room when introduced, looking down and making sure they have their notes. Hear this: your talk begins when you are invited to the front. 

9. Anticipate and welcome the surge of adrenaline.  Breathe slowly from the diaphragm and let that surge give you a heightened platform of energy.

10. Posture is the first “hello.” Stand with shoulders back and stride with purpose toward the stage. Sit close to the front so it’s a short trip—and never bounce down from the back of the room like a game show host.

11. Check your expression. If you look serious and somber, we anticipate the same kind of keynote.  If you try to imitate Tony Robbins we will be skeptical of your credibility.  But if you have a natural smile and appropriate positivity you begin to invite the audience to connect with you. If you are sincerely pleased to be in the room and interested in connecting with us, we will know it.


Your Guide to Authentic Speaking and Presenting is packed with rich material and innovative tips to help you become the communicator you were meant to be…and it’s FREE! Just click the download button.

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Avatar for Lou Solomon

Lou Solomon

Lou Solomon is the founder of Interact. She is a TEDx speaker and a member of the adjunct faculty at the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte. Her articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur.com, CEO.com, and Fast Company.