Six Things Not to Say at the Beginning of Your Presentation

By Heather Baldwin

We have devoted a lot of space in this newsletter to powerful presentation openers – ways to grasp your audience’s attention with the first words of your presentation. In this issue we’re going to show you how not to begin a presentation. Here are six guaranteed-to-fail openers from Mark Wiskup, president of Wiskup Communications (www.wiskupcommunications.com) and author of Presentation S.O.S.: From Perspiration to Persuasion in 9 Easy Steps (Warner, 2005). You’ve probably heard these tried-and-true openers before and even may have been guilty of using them yourself. Stay away from them, says Wiskup, because they can damage your presentation and your reputation.

1. Thanking the audience. Think about all the great performances you’ve seen, whether on Broadway or at a concert or comedy club. The performers don’t take a bow or thank the audience until after they have built a strong relationship and delivered value. At the beginning, the performers are focused on capturing your attention and drawing you in – exactly what you should be doing with your sales presentation. "Performers know audience members don’t want thanks; they want to be inspired, uplifted, educated and energized," observes Wiskup. "They want you to let them know you take them and their invested time seriously. Thanking them does not do that."

2. Telling the audience how glad you are to be there. Presentations require sincerity and respect for audience members’ time. This opener does neither and usually leaves people thinking: Yeah, yeah. Get on with it.

3. Telling a joke. This is the most difficult way to start a presentation and it never works. Nine times out of 10, presenters who start with jokes tell one that’s wholly unconnected to the presentation or one that’s too long or inadvertently offends someone. In that rare 1 out of 10 times when the joke actually is funny, Wiskup points out audience members are always more relieved than amused. Why put yourself and your audience through this useless agony?

4. Telling the audience: I’ve been asked to speak about…. This is a weak start for two reasons, says Wiskup. First, it sounds like you’d rather be talking about something else but relented and agreed to give this presentation. Second, the statement is delivered in the passive voice, which makes any speaker sound uncomfortable and wimpy.

5. Apologizing for anything. The only time it’s okay to apologize at the beginning of a presentation is if you open your mouth to speak and you belch loudly. Any other apology puts you instantly at a disadvantage and in a position of weakness that will permeate your entire presentation. Some of the most common apologies at the outset of presentations include statements such as: I’m sorry I have to shorten this presentation; normally I get more time. I’m sorry this isn’t the most current version of my PowerPoint slides. I’m sorry I’m here instead of the speaker who was supposed to be here. Leave out the apologies. Instead plunge in with a powerful opener that makes you and your presentation look strong.

6. Asking the audience to shout a greeting. This technique initially was conceived to get audience members fired up. In reality it just annoys people. Not convinced? Think about the times you’ve been asked to take part in this childish repetition. Did shouting a greeting back to the speaker make you think you were about to hear a great presentation from a great presenter? Or did it make you want to leave the room? Wiskup’s money is on the latter.