You have to make a Lecture Hold. Your slides are ready, the PowerPoint presentation is in place. You know the subject well and have acquired a solid background knowledge. You have already identified some potential questions and prepared possible answers. Everything is fine – if it weren’t for the beginning.
Well, there is the classic option: "Welcome to my talk on the topic XYZ. My name is Tim Reichel and in the next 30 minutes I’m going to explain…", but this is the version everyone uses. Is that bad? No. Is it boring and 90 percent of the listeners tune out at a standard introduction? Yes. And you can’t afford that. At least not if you want to stand out from the crowd and get your message across to the audience.
So how should you start your talk?
Well, there are different rhetorical possibilities. But be careful: Not everyone is for Presentations in an academic setting. In this article, I have therefore put together ten suitable ways for you to get the attention of your audience (and your professor)!) will immediately pull you in.
Read ass-kicking book grati s!
No more motivation problems in your studies: Kick yourself in the ass and become happy! Get the ass-kicking book: you get the first 37 pages for free. To do this, simply sign up for the email list:
Guaranteed no spam. You’ll be part of my newsletter and receive a reading sample, useful tips for your studies, and appropriate book recommendations. Unsubscribe at any time.
10 ways you can start a presentation or talk
If you’re having trouble finding the right lead-in to your talk or a colloquium without the majority of those in attendance falling asleep, then I have just the thing for you. Here are 10 ways you can open your presentation:
1. Use a quote!
Quotes are a simple and elegant way to start your talk. There is something magical, something wise about quotes. Besides, they are accepted as stylistic devices in academia and are almost never met with disapproval. Many lecturers help themselves to well-known authors and quote whenever there is an opportunity to do so.
A quote from an authority or famous person in particular can work wonders, giving your presentation an attention-grabbing edge you could never create on your own. So why not have Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking start your talk?
Example: The quote from Henry Ford "He who stops advertising to save money may as well stop his watch to save time"." would fit well for a talk on marketing tools.
2. Ask a question!
Remember how I started this article? Correct: with a question ("Do you know the?"). Why did I do this? Because my goal was to make you think. I wanted you to stay with it from the beginning and feel connected to the text. Notice how it works? (I’m doing it again…)
A question is the easiest way to get started. And best of all, you don’t even need a response. One question is enough and your audience thinks about possible answers or builds expectations. That’s all you want – because you will meet those expectations with your talk.
Ask questions that interest your audience (and that he or she wants answered). Alternatively, you can also use rhetorical questions or suggestive questions. The main thing is to capture the thoughts of the audience. On the other hand, you shouldn’t ask for self-evident facts and you shouldn’t be too provocative at the beginning either.
Example: "When was the last time you read through a nonfiction book in one day??" at a book launch or "Do you know what Donald Trump has to do with (topic of your choice)?" to connect your topic to a current political development.
3. Tell a story!
People love stories. Stories captivate us and playfully draw all attention to themselves. Our rational brain also absorbs stories better and can remember them better than abstract information. Therefore you should start your presentation with a short story.
However, your story should not be far-fetched and too detailed. Anecdotes and short stories that surprise your audience but lead directly to the core topic of the presentation are good. Personal stories that reveal something from your life are especially nice and effective. However, there should be a factual reference to the topic as well.
Example: "When Nikola Tesla was 17 years old, he suffered a severe stroke of fate…" for a talk with a physics background or "On the weekend, an elderly woman on the train approached me about my book. It turns out that they…"
4. Use a statistic!
Start your presentation with facts. Clear, bare facts. Particularly appealing are surprising statistics that underpin a clear expression, an unexpected development or a change in trend. Rational people love interesting data. Especially if these are unique and startling.
Of course, your statistic should have relevance and fit the topic. The source also plays an important role: figures from the tabloid newspaper have a different value than information from the Federal Statistical Office . After presenting your statistics succinctly, simply wait a moment, let the numbers sink in, and then begin your actual presentation.
Example: "Production of coal in the EU fell by 25 percent last year." or "3 out of 4 children at the age of 10 cannot read properly."
5. Draw a comparison!
Especially with special topics, where only a handful of people are well versed, you can attract more attention with the help of an initial comparison. But even with mainstream topics, comparisons can foster a strong bond between you and your audience.
Make sure that the comparison is interesting but not unrealistic. You also need to choose a comparison that your audience will understand – don’t assume too much expertise. Comparisons are also excellent in combination with other opening options.
Example: "Worldwide electricity consumption is currently at X. The method I’m about to present can reduce that figure by 5 percent."(comparison in combination with a statistic) or "Do you know what Einstein, a smartphone and my lecture have in common??" (comparison in combination with a question).
6. Establish a thesis!
If you want to start your talk with a signal of strength and stand confidently by your results, this kind of opening is for you. Summarize your findings in a thesis and make a simple, clear statement at the beginning.
Depending on your audience and professor, you may want to use this stylistic device carefully. Some people find it too brash; others respond with unwilling discussion. Attention is guaranteed in any case.
Example: "For developing your model, the author deserves a Nobel Prize." or "At the current time, there is only one reliable method that can be used to… anything else won’t work or will lead to big problems. And in my lecture I will show you why this is so."
7. Create an everyday reference!
Many lectures, papers, and presentations in college are about so-called niche topics. Topics that are rather small and abstract. The audience does not really understand their meaning or is not interested in them. However, by creating a link to daily reality, you can compensate for this disadvantage.
The same applies to the everyday reference as to the comparisons: The connection must fit and should not be pulled out of thin air. Originality and simplicity is needed. Here, too, you can combine other stylistic devices to attract even more attention.
Example: "Did you know how the Bernoulli effect helps you camp out?" or "The findings of the following study can easily be applied in everyday life – for example in the morning at the bakery."
8. Tell a joke!
Of all the possibilities I present in this article, the most delicate is the joke. Why? Firstly, because it can make you lose your respectability and you won’t be taken seriously anymore. If your professor is rather strict and even refrains from humorous interludes, you should follow suit.
Second, because jokes are tricky and can backfire. Just because you and your three favorite classmates think something is funny doesn’t mean the rest of the audience does, too. A botched joke at the beginning can damage your self-confidence and throw you completely off your game. Also, there’s a risk that you’ll slip in tone and say something inappropriate.
Example: Jokes that target minorities or specific groups of people are usually not so good for a lecture. If you resort to this, make sure you don’t defame anyone and hit the point of your audience. Ambiguity, irony and political references are not understood by everyone.
9. Anticipate the outcome!
If your presentation leads to your clear result that can be understood without much explanation, you can anticipate the end and get out the door, so to speak. Address the benefits of your presentation right at the beginning and then explain step by step how to get there.
Your audience will be grateful that you don’t keep them in suspense unnecessarily and will follow your explanations much better, because they know what result to expect. Make sure, however, that you do not confuse the audience with too much information. Your statement must be clear – similar to the thesis statement.
Example: "In this talk, I’m going to show you how we can get a return of 250.000 € can realize." or "The model I’m about to explain provides results with 98.7 percent accuracy."
10. Show a visual!
Nothing attracts attention like something you can touch. Numbers and words can’t compete with a real object – and that’s exactly what you can use to start your talk. Organize a visual object that you can hold up or pass through the rows when it starts.
Even in purely theoretical lectures and with even the most abstract topics, you can usually find something "to show". There’s just one catch: you have to get creative. And when in doubt, do some crafting or invest a little money. For important lectures this can be worthwhile, because professors usually appreciate your extra effort.
Example: "This is a model of my experimental system (at a scale of 1:25) that I created with a 3D printer." or "If you were to print out my statistical analysis, you would need 13.700 pages, that’s equivalent to this stack of books I brought you for illustration purposes." or "this prop played a crucial role in the premiere of Hamlet. I got a duplicate for you."