Finalist presentation – Embedded – Taiwan, SmarterME , Opera House July 7th 2010 © by ImagineCup (2010)

It’s crucial to understand the importance of grasping an audience’s attention in the first moments of a presentation. Your opening lines set the tone for your overall performance, so a great opener will prepare and intrigue the audience and ensure that your message is effectively received.

So, how do you enchant an audience right off the bat? Here are 5 methods that we have found work the best for beginning a presentation:

  1. Stories. Stories are always memorable. We crave stories because we all have them. Proposing this shared experience with your audience allows them to identify with you on a personal level. Now that you’ve established a connection with your listeners and viewers, you can merge your message with their thoughts while keeping them engaged and entertained. Just remember to keep the story relevant to the requested topic/event you were asked to speak about in order to maximize effectiveness. For example, I recently spoke at a conference where the theme was serendipity. I opened the presentation with my own story, which created a playful and engaging bond with the audience, and the tone for the rest of the presentation.
  2. Questions. A question is an excellent tool to jump-start audience engagement. A simple “How’s everyone doing?” opens up a forum of sorts for the audience, empowering them and making them more receptive to your message. A question also makes the audience think for themselves about a topic that you control. This is a great way to set and reinforce the agenda of your choice while giving the audience a sense of power.
  3. Quotes. Referencing the words and thoughts of an expert in relation to your message is useful for establishing an overarching theme or general idea about the topic. You are imparting wisdom on your audience while creating a connection to your own topic. Since you have primed the audience with a nugget of value, your information now appears to be equally as valuable. Just make sure you follow up the quote with an explanation of how it empowers your topic and how it is relevant. For example, don’t use a powerful quote like Nelson Mandela’s “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” only to then go on a completely different subject that doesn’t tie in education. It’ll just seem like a sad attempt to make you seem smarter than you really are!
  4. Statistics. Normally, numbers or any type of data can seem boring in a presentation. However, when used correctly, statistics can be very effective in illuminating your topic. The key is to use clear, accurate and relevant information in order to truly engage your audience. A solid statistic places your incoming message in a concrete, irrefutable and trusted frame of reference. During Steve Jobs’ keynote introducing the first-generation iPod music player, he stated that his new device had 5 GB of data. He then made it relevant to his target market of common consumers by explaining that 5 GB gets you up to 5,000 songs. This explanation made a normally boring description of data storage sound simple to understand, exciting (that’s a lot of songs!), and most importantly, relevant to his target audience.
  5. Jokes. Humor is extremely powerful when used effectively. A good joke can loosen up your audience and make them more receptive to you as a person, as well as to your message. Be warned, though, that humor is highly volatile. A bad joke can be worse than no joke at all. Make sure you have a scope for your target audience before you dive into a dud of a joke. A great resource you can reference is a book called Comedy Writing Secrets: The Best-Selling Book on How to Think Funny, Write Funny, Act Funny, and Get Paid for It.

Use these techniques in your next presentation to prepare, engage, control and entertain your audience. Like all things, these methods are only suggestions and their effectiveness depends heavily on delivery. Make them your own, and you will appear more natural and fluid in your performance.

At 21 years old, Kenny Nguyen is the CEO/Founder of Big Fish Presentations, a presentation company that does presentation design, presentation consulting, and commercial video production. Kenny and his team has also been recently featured in Inc. Magazine as one of 2012′s Coolest College Startups.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC leads #FixYoungAmerica, a solutions-based movement that aims to end youth unemployment and put young Americans back to work.