8 dreadful ways to begin a presentation

Many speakers dip in a verbal toe—primarily to quell their own jitters—but rather than breaking the ice, they leave the audience cold. Here are opening lines to discard.

Think of the opening of your speech as prime real estate.

Many speech beginnings, unfortunately, don’t do their speakers or their audiences any favors. Some are small mistakes, and some are more fundamental, but they’re all unnecessary.

The first line of your speech is the point of maximum excitement and openness for the audience. The speaker has to meet those expectations with something equally exciting.

How are you starting your speeches? Don’t use any of these clunkers, please.

1. “I’m glad to be here.” This default opener is a polite nothing. It squanders precious mental real estate. Don’t waste your time or the audience’s.

2. “I can’t hear you.” Polite nothings are small errors. Haranguing your audience is a larger one. The audience’s attention is a gift bestowed on the speaker. Don’t abuse the gift by yelling at your audience. You’re not a PE teacher.

3. “Let me tell you a little bit about myself.” Don’t do it. Nobody cares. If you’re really fascinating, you will have been introduced by someone else who will have said all the interesting stuff already. Audiences want to know why they are there, not who you are.

4. “Will you please turn off your cell phones?” If people really care about their mobile phones, they won’t turn them off no matter what you say, and you will begin your talk already at odds with them. Some people, such as EMTs, have good reason to have their phones on. Leave your audience alone, and grab their interest instead.

5. “Who here is from (city/country/penal institution)? Please raise your hand.” This was clever interaction the first 10,000 times it was done, but now it’s just lame. To interact with the audience, ask something interesting. If you want to feel comfortable, try Xanax.

6. “Thank you for that kind introduction.” It’s false modesty and a waste of time. If you must thank the introducer, and that is certainly a courtesy, then make it shorter and sweeter: “Thanks, Jim.” (Don’t bother if it’s a recorded voice.)

7. “Let me tell you what I’m going to talk about.” Perhaps agenda discussions were useful years ago, and they still are if you’re planning to talk for eight hours, like Fidel Castro, but if you’re only going for an hour, don’t offer an agenda. We can live through an hour without knowing the 10-minute increments.

8. “I’m sorry about…” You don’t want to begin at odds with the audience—you’re there to serve them. So don’t start by apologizing for your slides, your voice, your health—anything. Just do the thing that you’ve been hired or brought in to do.

Please be kind to audiences everywhere by avoiding those eight no-nos. You’ll be glad you did, and audiences will pay attention, engage more fully and be excited about what’s coming next.

A version of this post first ran on Public Words.


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