Presentation checklist: Starting strong

Presentation checklist: Starting strong

Portrait of business woman with microphone

“The speaker was excellent: confident, warm, funny, and she clearly knew what she was talking about… Too bad I only saw the first minute of her speech.”

Wouldn’t it be nice to get a glowing review like that for just a minute’s worth of presenting? It could happen. So could a critique like this:

“The speaker was really weak: nervous, hard to hear, and he didn’t seem to know what he wanted to say… I left after the first minute.”

Had these audience members stayed for the rest of the presentations, their one-minute assessments might not have held true: the “excellent” speaker might have droned on too long and bored the audience. The “weak” speaker may have found his footing after a few minutes and won the audience over. But the point is: the opening moments of a presentation are critical. And it’s up to the presenter to use those valuable seconds to her or his advantage.

Here’s a checklist to help ensure your next presentation hits the ground running.

 Focus on one delivery goal. If you tend to have a quiet voice, make it your goal to start with strong vocal energy. If you have trouble maintaining eye contact, make deliberate eye contact from the very start.

 Start when you start. The first words out of your mouth are the first words of your presentation. Plan them. If you begin with, “Um, hi. Okay…” or “Okay—let’s get started…,” this is how your talk begins. First words, like first impressions, matter—so make them meaningful.

 Preview the audience. If you can, watch the audience before you speak. Position yourself where you can see them. Getting a read on the audience’s mood or identifying the engaged audience members beforehand will make them feel more familiar to you when you face them.

 Know your approach. If possible, get into the space where you’ll speak earlier in the day and practice moving to the speaking area. Knowing your route and practicing it will help you approach the speaking area confidently when the time comes.

 Have a strong physical base. Before you begin speaking, make sure your body is squarely planted. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and your weight evenly distributed. This will help you project your voice and gesture more easily. It also focuses your audience on your face and voice, not extraneous movement.

The next time you attend a presentation, watch what happens to the speaker’s delivery after two or three minutes: typically, you can see the body and mind relax as the speaker becomes more comfortable. When speakers don’t start strong, they are, essentially, warming up in front of the audience. Don’t let that be you. Make it your goal to start your presentation as the already-comfortable speaker.


Post by John Capecci; originally published on

John CapecciJohn Capecci of Capecci Communications (Minneapolis) is a trainer and consultant who offers personal coaching, group workshops, and webinars on communication effectiveness.

1 Comment

  1. I love that this suggests focusing on one delivery goal, rather than trying to fix several things at once. (How true, too, that first words matter!)

    You might also like my own post about how to start strong. It suggests starting with either a scenario (like “Imagine if you…”), or a startling statistic, or a story. See what you think…

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