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The Structure of a Presentation:

How do poor presenters start?

Most presentations start terribly. Weak presenters start by muttering and mumbling something to the organiser, thanking people for coming or some other start that is weak and lacks impact.

Poor presenters start apologetically. Poor presenters start without understand that their job is to grab attention, to inspire, persuade and motivate the audience to listen up and listen good!

How do great presenters start?

The great presenters understand that you need to start a presentation in a way that grabs attention. I don't mean being all showy and flash - nobody likes a slick salesman.

The opening of a presentation is like the STARTER of a fine meal, it whets the appetite, it gets the attention of the tastebuds, but it does not fill. It excited. It does not bulk.

What can YOU do to start a presentation like one of the great speakers?

There are one or two things that you can do to make sure that you grab attention and start your presentation with a bit of a bang.

Ask a Question

The best way to start a presentation is to start with a question. Ask them something. Get their minds working, engage them with something they can think about. Don't just fill up their minds - see if you can get them to THINK about what you're saying. They aren't just listening, they are thinking about it.

Ask them something that gets their agreement. It will help them come on board with your thinking.

Your presentation will truly answer that question and help them to realise you are on the same page together. This will help them trust you.

Tell a Story

My personal favourite way to get people to relate to me and my way of thinking is a story. All throughout my presentations and coaching I use stories to help people picture what we're talking about.

Make it an inspiring story, a fear inducing story, a motivating story - but inspirational stories work very very well indeed!

People are expecting you to tell a boring old load of data. But when you start with a story, the audience won't even know that you've slipped effortlessly into your presentation. You see, most presentations are boring, so they won't be expecting you to engage them with a story first. Before they know it, you'll be influencing them with your presentation and they didn't even know it.

A story or a question is how the great presentation coaches start their presentations.


First impressions count. The first line of your business presentation really matters, it makes an impact. It's essential to your success presenting to an audience. How important? A group of people at Princeton University were asked to watch the opening line of an election speech and guess which candidate won the election. Guess what - from the opening - they could correctly guess who won. That's how important it is. Our first impressions are not only lighting fast, but they are pretty accurate as well. So when you stand up to speak, there’s a lot riding on your first sentence.

The first line, like a monologue, is called a hook. It hooks the listener. It makes them decide whether it's worth even listening to the rest of what you say.

We start with terrible opening lines like:

"Hello My name is Jane Simpson and today I'm going to talk about SEO analytics."

Zzzzzzzz - BORING

There are a few key things to keep in mind when crafting the perfect opening line for your business presentation.


Opening with 'Hello I'm..." leaves you dead in the water. Get straight to the point. It will wake your audience up, they are so used to hearing boring shit, when you get to the point, they'll really prick up their ears.

Look at the way marketing expert Gary See opened his most successful speech.

“Nobody you know has become successful or created success –outside of being given to them from their family — without working their face off. It doesn’t exist! You can sit and talk about luck, this and that and the other thing, but I promise you that the only controllable thing you have is: your work ethic.

Here's a speech from Bill Clinton supporting Barak Obama:

"I'm not so grateful for the chance to speak in the wake of her magnificent address last night. But I'll do my best. Hillary told us in no uncertain terms that she'll do everything she can to elect Barack Obama.

That makes two of us. Actually that makes 18 million of us — because, like Hillary, I want all of you who supported her to vote for Barack Obama in November. Here's why. Our nation is in trouble on two fronts: The American dream is under siege at home, and America's leadership in the world has been weakened. Middle-class and low-income Americans are hurting, with incomes declining; job losses, poverty and inequality rising; mortgage foreclosures and credit card debt increasing; health care coverage disappearing; and a big spike in the cost of food, utilities, and gasoline."

They get stuck in, from the beginning = they don't water it down - they get straight to the point.


The telling of a good story is based on the audience not knowing how it ends. If you want them to sit and listen and engage with you in your presentation, that requires suspense. The opening, the hook, is designed to grab attention. You establish mood and tone of the rest of the presentation with the opening line.

But like a good film or novel, you have to create suspense, make us WANT to hear the next bit, stimulate us, open, create mystery.


Start with a rhetorical question, open with it. Imagine:

What's happened to our sense of community?

Where did we go wrong with internet marketing?

How do we move forwards after a terrible year for our business?

Rhetorical questions start the audience's mind going. But they don't seek an answer, they just get the audience thinking.


Fortune favours the bold. The audience need to be awakened from their slumber. Yes, it's the beginning of your presentation and they are expected for you to be a SNOOZE-fest. It's not personal, honest, it isn't. But they expect you to be a bore. Because all the other presentations they have seen were boring.

So open with something to shock them out of their complacent slumber. Make a bold statement.

"I need to make a confession..."

Imagine the suspense you've created. Imagine the interest and attention you have now.

In one sentence, you have everyone's attention.

Now what are you gonna do with it?


If the beginning of your speech is the STARTER, whetting the appetite for more - then the MIDDLE is the meat of the feast, the main course.

But to be honest, it can also be the dullest part of the speech, because it's where you have to get down to business. A provocative opening grabs attention, but the audience will soon doze off if you don't know how to tackle the MIDDLE.

Every speech or presentation should have a BIG IDEA, a central idea which goes through the whole thing. The Middle is the place where we explore that BIG IDEA from several different angles or with different approaches.

I usually advise my clients to break their middle down into three parts:

  • MIDDLE 1

  • MIDDLE 2

  • MIDDLE 3

By breaking this down into smaller chunks, we reduce the risk of having one long boring rant. So the BIG IDEA is explored through three main points. Of course, you could have TEN main points, but three central points in normal length presentation will usually suffice.

Inside each of these MIDDLES is the exploration of examples, evidence, stories, jokes, case studies etc, what helps you make that particular middle's point.

Between each of the Middles, you should have a mini turning point. A turning point makes a clear and visible shift of direction for you. It is separate from the middles, and it acts like a mini-introduction to the next middle.

  • MIDDLE 1


  • MIDDLE 2


If it was a particularly long presentation, you might break the Middles themselves down into smaller parts.


  • Mini Middle Point 1

  • Mini Middle Point 2

  • Mini Middle Point 3


MIDDLE 2....

We've all sat in a boring monotonous talk, lecture or presentation. Structure is much more important than you think. Content may well be King, but if it isn't properly structured, you will reduce audience engagement because their attention will waver early on.

The Middle is where you are most likely to lose the audience's attention. However, when you plan your presentation to include a three-part middle, with those parts further broken down, you are boosting the chances of holding their attention throughout.


You've worked to create a powerful presentation. You've worked hard to develop a strong message. You've crafted a strong opening, you've developed the middle to really influence and impact your audience. You've rehearsed for hours, you've had a couple of sleepless nights about it. You've practised. But the part that most people skimp on, is the ending.

The ending of your presentation is the chance to really hit home your message and to reiterate your key points. Are your key points clear enough to be easily summarised and re-told to the audience?

This is the last chance to leave your impression on the audience.

Make the closing of your presentation short and clear.

Here's the time to include your Call to Action, encourage action from your audience.

Close with a quote or a fact that reinforces the central message of your presentation. Make it funny, or engaging and the audience will remember you, the fact and your point.




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