All good presentations have three parts – a beginning, a middle, and an end. All sections are important, but we often focus most on the middle and the bulk of the presentation. The core message should be a thread throughout your speech. But it should also be particularly emphasised at the beginning and the end.
The beginning is all about capturing the attention of your audience. The end is all about leaving them with a memorable message. If you nail those two parts, the rest might just fall into place. So if you are looking for guidance about how to begin a presentation, read ahead. And if you want to know how to end a presentation, keep reading.
The beginning and end are vital building blocks of your speech. Make sure they’re fantastic.
How to begin a presentation
Even though there are numerous different ways to start a presentation, they all have the same single and simple purpose. Capture the attention of your audience. Before you get into the meat of your presentation, you need to trigger interest. First impressions are always important. Especially in the world of presentations. So how do you grab attention from the very beginning?
Thank your audience
A genuine show of gratitude is a great technique when considering how to begin a presentation. It portrays sincerity and encourages a welcoming group feel in the room. Thanking the audience is a strong welcome. It introduces you in a positive light. Your listeners will be more willing to pay attention to somebody they like straight away.
You can even pay a bit more attention to your audience to gain their attention. Perhaps ask them to stand and loosen up, especially if they’ve been sitting for a while. Or invite them to participate in a game or show of hands. Your listeners will be grateful for the rest or break from monotony. They might even be more relaxed and ready to listen.
Create and memorize a great first line
The first line of any speech or presentation is often the most daunting. That’s why you should make sure it’s strong and powerful. Spend time rewriting and editing your first line. Then spend more time learning it off by heart. Memorizing the first few sentences will also help your confidence. Even if you don’t know the whole speech, trusting in your first few lines will steady your nerves before you dive into the rest of the presentation. The best presenters might not learn their entire speech. But most of the time they will have memorized their first and last words. And they will have practised them to perfection.
Make a strong statement
Your statement could be as simple as just saying the purpose of your presentation. Or it could be something much more memorable, controversial or bold. But saying why you’re there sets up an immediate meaning behind your presentation. It tells the audience what they can expect from listening to you. It’s a thread that you can refer back to throughout your speech. Something for both you and your audience to hold onto and navigate.
This is exactly what Sal Khan does as he simple states why is here today.
Another use of strong statements can be representing your speech within the context of time. You can do this by looking to the past or pointing to the future. Make a statement about your industry in 30 years. Or about society in 100 years. Or how life will be different for the next generation. It can show that your, your speech, and your company is part of a bigger picture.
Or compare your current situation with 30 years ago. Use the past as a comparison. Use it to show growth, and emphasize that your message is part of that growth. People can relate to the changes that have happened within their lifetime. So use that to let people realise the potential of future change too.
This is a bit of a bold move. But many presenters have promoted the power of the pause. Silence speaks. So why not try starting your presentation with a moment of silence? It will certainly build tension in the room and your audience will be intrigued about what you are waiting to say.
Ask a question
Simon Sinek’s TED talk is all about asking questions, especially one big question: why? So it’s not surprising that he starts his speech with a series of questions that get the audience thinking. The style and content of his questions make it clear what the rest of his presentation will be about. So they introduce his talk perfectly. Even better, we know he will go on to answer his own questions. Which makes us want to listen to him even more.
This is a useful technique for when you want to know how to start a presentation on PowerPoint. Visually support your question with a slide asking it. A strong slide with a single sentence will let the audience absorb the question and give them time to answer it, even if only in their own thoughts.
Tell a story
Storytelling is a useful technique for many presenters. Often, a whole presentation might revolve around a story. Other times, smaller anecdotes are used to enhance a message. But starting a speech with a story is a great way to grasp attention. Shawn Achor does this particularly well in his TED Talk. He also tells a true story and one from his childhood.
True stories are particularly relatable and easier to identify with, enhancing the honesty and sincerity of the speaker. And stories from the past shows progression. They also naturally allow your presentation to follow a timeline back to the present moment. That timespan shows the potential of change and growth, which are inspiring to your listeners.
Nick Morgan particularly encourages this way of starting a presentation in his Forbes article.
Tell a joke
Humour can be a great way to lighten a room. It presents you as fun and likeable. It might also relax the audience and stir their attention. But telling a joke can sometimes be hit or miss. You need the right level of confidence and a joke that isn’t alienating or offensive. To some extent, you want to shock your audience at the beginning of a presentation. But it should be a shock that stirs or inspires them, not something controversial or unlikeable.
Check out the humour of someone like James Veitch to find the perfect balance between funny and informative, entertaining and enhancing.
Use a quote
Using a relatable and relevant quote can be a great way to start a presentation. It gives a level of authority to your words and allows you to develop upon the message of somebody else. Especially if the quote is from a well-known or celebrated person, it can help your audience relate to your content from the beginning. Again, this is a particularly good method for how to start a presentation on PowerPoint. Put the quote on a slide and let it sink into the audience throughout your speech. That will give it even greater power.
How to end a presentation
By the end of your presentation, you want your audience to have understood the purpose of your message. You should bring them back around to the core of your speech. Hammer home your main point and let that single, strong message be the last thing they hear from you. Make it memorable and powerful. There are many effective solutions for those wanting to know how to end a presentation speech, which we have outlined below.
For even more advice, check out this great Inc. article about presentation endings.
Involve the audience
Engaging with the audience at the end of a presentation is a great way to read the room. It will help you understand whether or not your message has come across. It will show the impact of your words and allow you some feedback from your listeners. For example, some speakers as for a show of hands to show opinions on the topic. Not only does this show the effects of your speech, but it also makes the audience feel like they are involved and that their opinion is important.
An even more common way to involve the audience is through a Q&A session. Some presentations end as soon as the speaker stops talking. They leave the stage and let their last words finish the speech. However, others prefer to let the audience have the last word. They take questions and provide answers to clear up any uncertainties or develop on single points. This method gives a lot of agency to the audience, allowing them a voice within your presentation.
Ask a question
Although this was a solution for those wanting to know how to begin a presentation, asking a question is also a great option for those wanting to know how to end a presentation speech. It shows that, even though you have spoken on a certain topic, there is always more to be said. By leaving the ending a bit more open, your question will stick in the mind of the audience. That way, your whole presentation might be more memorable. Plus, you are more likely to have people follow-up on your idea and contact you afterwards for more information.
Play video or audio
By using a form of media, you can round off your message in a visual or creative way. Technology provides a rest for both you and the audience. A pre-prepared message can enhance your words and push forward your idea. Whether it’s a series of photos, a video of an experience, an audio of an interview, or pictures and diagrams to show data, visual and audial engagement can be very effective. So take advantage of the 21st Century and use technology to its max.
Give a call to action
After you’ve given your audience all your content and your core message, they should feel inspired. Embrace that motivation with a call to action. Invite your listeners to act upon your story and presentation. Let them be part of the change in the future. Speak with passion at the end of your speech.
The specific call to action is up to you and will depend upon your type of presentation. It might be inviting the audience to contact you for more information. You might ask them to become involved in your organisation. It might be encouraging them to visit a website or donate money. Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to ask your audience for more. If your speech is powerful enough, they will want to be involved in the next steps.
Use a quote
Again, this is a great technique for both how to begin a presentation and how to end a presentation speech. Quotes are so popular because they are short snippets of powerful words. The important thing to remember in a presentation is to keep a quote short and to the point.
Another thing to avoid when using a quote is cliché. Quotes that are too general or cheesy can just be confusing. Keep it relevant. If it doesn’t apply to your message, just stick to your own words. Be original in your quote choice. Let it linger in the minds of your audience. Something believable and something memorable. For more advice on what not to do in a presentation, check out our article – Most Common Presentation Mistakes.
You want the quote to support your message, not distract from it. Tony Fadell does this brilliantly at the end of his TED Talk. Watch below to find out more.
Ending any presentation well is important. But PowerPoint presentations often need even more creativity and originality to be interesting. So check out our article on ending your presentation with an impact. Learn not only what techniques you can apply, but how to apply them to the fullest effect.
When considering how to begin a presentation, remember to make an impact. When considering how to end a presentation, remember to leave an impact. Invest time on the beginning and end of your presentation. The lasting result on your audience is worth it.