Does Your Presentation Formula Need to be Revamped?

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on 8/29/17 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehension.


You know the drill.

Open with an introduction and end with a Q&A, right?


Are you thinking, “That’s the way I’ve always done it and it works just fine!”?

That may be the problem.

As people change and evolve, so must your methods for reaching them.

What seemed to work 10 years ago likely isn’t as effective now.

Believe it or not, the way you begin and end have big implications for the power of your presentation.

Here’s what you need to know about beginning and ending a presentation in a way that will stick with your audience.

Give your presentation bookends

No, you’re not going to use actual bookends in your presentation. You might get some funny looks. Unless you’re a bookend salesperson.

The point is that you need to grab the audience’s attention as soon as you arrive on stage.

At the end, send them out with a bang.

People will remember the first thing they hear and the last thing they hear.

Your job is to make sure both matter.

Hook ‘em

How many fish (your audience) will you catch with a hook like this?

“Hi, I’m Susan. I’m going to give you the 27 steps for filling out an incident report. Let’s begin.”

You may have actually fallen asleep reading that because it was a total snoozefest.

The fact is, you have a short window of opportunity to grab your audience’s attention – so your presentation formula matters!

After that, you’ve lost them.

In order to build trust, anticipation and connections with your audience, you have to take advantage of the first moment of impact.

Here are some ways you can do just that:

  • Start with a rhetorical question and a startling fact. “Did you know that Google was originally called BackRub? I’m Cindy and I’m here to tell you how to take your personal branding to the next level.”
  • Engage the audience. “Raise your hand if you ate breakfast this morning. Wow, only about a third of you! My name is Susan, and my research proves that a good breakfast is the most important part of losing excess weight.”
  • Surprise your audience. Think how memorable it would be if you entered the room from the back, singing a song. Maybe you have another unique talent to share that would make your entrance unforgettable, like juggling or riding a unicycle. Be creative!

Your hook lets your audience know that this isn’t going to be an ordinary presentation like the ones they’ve heard a hundred times.

Now, let’s flip the script and look at some examples of what NOT to do at the beginning of your talk.

  • Tell a joke. Unless you’re an actual comedian, leave the jokes out of your opener.
  • Give the audience gobbledygook. Don’t spout off a stream of words or phrases the audience doesn’t understand. It’s even worse if you go on to laboriously define them all.
  • List your thank-yous. Save it for your Oscar acceptance speech. Your audience doesn’t care who you’re thankful for.
  • Apologize. No matter what, never open your presentation with an apology. Whether the temperature is too cold in the venue or the lighting is off – don’t draw the audience’s attention to anything other than the important message you’re there to give them.

The way you grab the audience’s attention sets the tone for the rest of your talk.” #improvtips

End with a message that sticks

Leave your audience with a meaningful directive or give them compelling information to chew on. Here are couple ways you can close out your talk:

  • Summarize the important points that you made during your presentation. It’s a proven fact that repetition increases retention rates.

Consider what Dale Carnegie had to say about giving a speech:

“Tell the audience what you’re going to say, then say it, then tell them what you said.”

  • End with a call to action. You’ve probably heard the words JFK used to inspire his audience.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

Inspiring your audience to take action ends your presentation on a powerful note.

It’s valuable for you to know what NOT to do, too.

Avoid ending your presentation in any of these ways.

  • Not giving the audience a head’s up. Your audience will be confused if your presentation content ends abruptly, without warning. Always give an indication that you’re wrapping up. Your closing will be more memorable and the audience’s attention will be heightened.
  • Leaving with a dud. After your summary and call to action, leave the audience with a statement that epitomizes the most important idea of your presentation.
  • Ending with a Q&A. There is a time and place in your presentation for questions, but it isn’t right at the end. Ending in this way will take away from your strong summary, call to action and closing statement.
Begin and end your presentation with a bang

Your audience is there because they want to hear what you have to say.

Make sure your presentation formula helps you succeed.

Hook them from the very beginning with a startling statistic or a rhetorical question to get them thinking and draw them in.

When your presentation comes to a close, leave your audience with a call to action that will keep them pondering your words long after they’ve left.

Takeaway: Practice different openings and closings that will grab your audience for your next presentation.

This article is 100% written by a human named Karen Hough. She is the Founder & CEO of ImprovEdge, in the top 4% of women-owned businesses in the US, a 3-time Amazon bestselling author, Yale grad, wife and mom of three.