How to Start and End a Presentation: 10 Practical Tips to Grab Attention and Make an Impact

How to Start and End a Presentation

No matter how well-crafted and planned the body of your presentation, its impact depends on its opening and ending.  On one hand, you have 30 seconds to grab your audience’s attention so people would be interested in hearing what you have to say. On the other, your ending is what your audience will be left with and will shape how they feel about your presentation and how they’ll remember it. This might be like a lot of pressure but the truth is, it’s easier than it sounds. This is why, in this article, we will help you achieve this and more with 10 practical tips on how to start and end a presentation effectively.

Article overview:
The Opening: 5 Tips To Get Your Audience Invested 
1. The Hook
2. Transition
3. Personal Story
4. Build Tension with Silence
5. Use Startling Statistics
The Ending: 5 Tips To Make an Impact
1. The Rule of Three
2. Come Full Circle
3. Food for Thought Question Ending
4. Inspire with Personal Involvement
5. Make Your Audience Laugh


5 Practical Tips on How to Start a Presentation

Imagine you spent weeks preparing an amazing presentation with lots of valuable insight that you just can’t wait to share with your audience. Unfortunately, only a few minutes in, you notice that most of your viewers are on their phones scrolling and barely paying any attention to what you have to say. What happened?

Presenters and speakers often start with a long introduction. They introduce themselves, share how excited they are, thank the audience for attending, explain what they’re going to speak about in a minute, why the topic is important, etc. This might take only one or two minutes, however, when it comes to presentation,  two minutes without telling anything interesting might result in losing your audience. In fact, you only have 30 seconds to grab your audience’s attention.

This is why, no matter the topic and goal of your presentation, you must always captivate your audience’s attention first. Leave the introductions and summaries for later.

In this section, we’ll talk about ways to hook your audience in the first 30 seconds and get them invested in what you have to say in your presentation.

1. The Hook

Anything unpredictable that catches you off-guard, will get your attention.

This tactic, masterfully named as a metaphor for attracting fish with a juicy worm on a hook, refers to a few-second short story, metaphor, shocking fact, statistics, analogy, controversial statement, or anything unconventional and unexpected that will capture your viewer’s imagination. We’ll have a look at three examples for hooks.

1.1 Bold Claim

“Here’s all you have to know about men and women: women are crazy, men are stupid.” This opening line by stand-up comedy legend George Carlin is a great example of a hook in the form of a bold claim. If you’re confident enough with your presentation and you have a bold claim up to your sleeve, don’t save it for the end. Instead, shoot that bullet confidently the second you start your presentation. It will immediately catch your audience off-guard and you will have it paying attention to your every word after that.

Here are some examples for bold claim starters in presentations and public speaking.

  • “What you’re doing right now at this very moment is killing you.” (Nilofer Merchant)
  • “Sadly, in the next 18 minutes when I do our chat, four Americans that are alive will be dead through the food that they eat.” (Jamie Oliver)
  • “I’m going to try to increase the lifespan of every single person in this room by seven and a half minutes. Literally, you will live seven and a half minutes longer than you would have otherwise just because you watched this talk.” (Jane McGonagall)
  • “I don’t want to alarm anybody in this room. However, it’s just come to my attention that the person to your right is a liar.” (Pamela Meyer)
1.2 Imagine

One of the greatest ways to get attention and start strong is through storytelling. People love stories and are always interested in hearing one. In fact, many presentations may revolve around a story or just use small anecdotes to enhance their message. With this being said, amongst the best methods to create a compelling story is to get your audience involved. To do so, make them imagine themselves in the shoes of the main character. This attention-grabber invites your viewers to create a mental image and get emotionally invested.

Here are examples of speeches starting with the Imagine play:

  • “I want you, guys, to imagine that you’re a soldier, running through the battlefield. Now, you’re shot in the leg with a bullet that severs your femoral artery. This bleed is extremely traumatic and can kill you in less than 3 minutes. Unfortunately, by the time a medic actually gets to you, what the medic has on his or her belt can take 5 minutes or more with the application of pressure to stop that type of bleed.” (Joe Landolina)
  • “Imagine a big explosion as you climb through 3000 feet. Imagine a plane full of smoke, imagine an engine going clack-clack-clack-clack-clack. Well, I had a unique seat that day.”(Ric Elias)
1.3. Humourous Twists

Great stories have unexpected plot twists. The best stories, however, have a funny plot twist. Depending on your topic, you can start by telling your story, get your audience in the mood for a serious talk, and then contradict all expectations with a hilarious spin.

  • “I need to make a confession at the outset here. A little over 20 years ago I did something that I regret. Something that I’m not particularly proud of. Something that in many ways I wish no one would ever know. But here I feel kind of obliged to reveal. In the late 1980s, in a moment of youthful indiscretion, I went to law school.” (Daniel Pink)

2. Transition

Your next step would be to make an organic transition between your hook and the main point of your presentation. You can do this seamlessly or by linking directly with “I tell you this, because”, “This brings us to…”. Mohammed Qahtani, for example, does this transition so smoothly, that you’ll never even catch it.

First, as a hook, he chooses to use a prop. He literally goes on stage and lights a cigarette, capitalizing on unpredictability, originality, bold statement, humor, and immediately uses the second hook in the form of a provocative question, asking the audience “You think smoking kills?”. The third thing he does is strike with shocking data that he immediately admits to being fake. He already has the audience on the tip of his fingers. Having accomplished that, Mohammed Qahtani is ready to finally move to the body of the presentation and reveal his actual message.

3. Personal Story

Another storytelling technique besides making people from your audience imagine themselves in a particular situation, is to start with your own personal story. One that is relevant to the topic of your presentation. Your personal involvement and experience give you credibility in the eyes of the viewers, and, as we mentioned, everyone loves to hear an interesting story. This is because stories are relatable, easy to identify with communicating honesty, openness, and connection.

4. Build Tension with Silence

Interestingly enough, saying nothing is also a very powerful option. In fact, standing in front of an audience and confidently keeping silent is as powerful as making a bold statement. Silence will definitely build tension and pique your audience’s curiosity about what you have to say. Be careful, however, as this technique requires knowing your timing.

5. Use Startling Statistics

Sometimes you just can’t think of a story, a joke, or a specific statement that is bold enough. And that’s okay. As a last resort, but also a pretty effective one, you can always rely on curious shocking statistics, related to your topic, to instantly gain people’s attention. Take your time researching curious statistics that will emphasize the seriousness of your topic or as a tool to start over the top.

To sum it up, your presentation opening follows 5 steps:

  • Hook: You immediately strike your audience instantly with something interesting and unconventional they wouldn’t expect.
  • Transition: You link your hook to your main point.
  • Introduction: Once you already have your audience’s attention, you can finally make a very brief introduction with something relevant to your topic.
  • Preview: Give your audience a brief preview of what you’re going to talk about.
  • Benefits: Tell your audience how will they benefit from listening to your presentation. (ex. “By the end, you will already know how to…”)

Keep in mind, that your opening, consisting of these 5 steps, should be brief and ideally not exceed 2 minutes. If you manage to make a great hook, transition, introduction, review and list the benefits in 2 minutes, you already have your audience’s full attention and they will be listening to your every word throughout the body of your presentation.

5 Practical Tips on How to End a Presentation

Let’s consider this situation. You start watching a movie that instantly opens with a jaw-dropping suspenseful scene that raises questions and makes you want to unravel the mystery. This scene will certainly make your stay through the movie. You are very invested, you love the story, the build-up keeps you on the edge of your seat until the end when the reveal is so underwhelming, you feel disappointed. The ending doesn’t fit the intensity of the story and feels incomplete and rushed. How does this relate to your presentation?

Having a great start for your presentation is what will keep your audience interested in what you have to say. However, the end is what your audience will be left with and will shape how they feel about your presentation and how they’ll remember it.  In short, if you fail your opening, you will still be able to catch up with your presentation and capitalize with a great closing line. But an underwhelming conclusion can kill the velocity of a good presentation and ruin the overall experience.

Let’s look at some practical tips and examples by great presenters to get inspired and never let that happen.

1. The Rule of Three

This powerful technique in speech writing refers to the collection of three words, phrases, sentences, or lines. In photography, there’s a similar rule, known as the Rule of Thirds, that serves to divide an image into three. In writing, the Rule of Three combines a collection of thoughts into three entities with combined brevity and rhythm to create a pattern.

Information presented in a group of three sticks in our heads better than in other groups. This is why this principle presents your ideas in more enjoyable and memorable ways for your audience.  It also serves to divide up a speech or emphasize a certain message. Let’s see a couple of examples where the rule is applied in different forms.

Examples of the Rule of three in Speeches
  • I came, I saw, I conquered.” (Veni, Vidi, Vici. ) by Julius Caesar in a letter to the Roman Senate
  • “…this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
  • It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. lt means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.” from Steve Job’s Stanford Commencement Speech

In Veni Vidi Vici, the rule serves to divide the concept of Caesar’s victory into three parts to prolong the conclusion in order to give it more power. The “came” and “ saw” parts are technically obvious and unnecessary in terms of context. However, they serve to build up the conclusion of conquering, creating a story, rhythm, and, ultimately, a memorable and powerful line. A single “I conquered” wouldn’t impress the Senate that much, let alone become such a legendary phrase preserved in history.

Lincoln’s famous speech ending shows an excellent practice of the Rule of Three in the form of repetition to emphasize the new role of the Government. “That Government of the people shaw not perish from the earth.” would still be a good line, however, the repetition makes it way more powerful and memorable.

And last, Steve Job uses the Rule of Three in the form of repetition to accomplish building up the conclusion and emphasizing what “it means”.  This repetition gives rhythm and helps the audience to be more receptive, stay focused, and follow the speaker to the final conclusion.

Bonus Tip

You can also use the Rule of Three to close your presentation by giving your audience two negatives and ending with a positive. Typical structures would be “This is not… this is not… but it is”; “You wouldn’t… you wouldn’t… but you would..”, etc.

For example, you can conclude a speech about self-growth with something similar to “Your future isn’t a matter of chance, it isn’t a matter of circumstances, it’s a matter of choice.”

2. Come Full Circle

In short, this means capitalizing on your message by ending your presentation the exact way you started it. If done right, this is a powerful tool to make an impact. Usually, you begin your presentation with a statement that piques your audience’s curiosity. You use it to set the topic and start building on it. You take your audience on a journey, you make them start at one point, follow them through the entire journey, and make them end at the same point. By repeating the opening line as an ending, now the message makes more sense, it’s way more personal and makes a satisfying logical conclusion.

A good example of this comes from Yubing Zang in her speech “Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone.” The speaker opens her TED talk with that same line to take you on a journey. You experience her story, you learn how fear is the biggest thief of dreams while comfort is a drug that keeps you from following them. After that strong message, she finishes with that same phrase. In the end, this phrase isn’t just an abstract quote, now it makes more sense and feels more real and personal.

Bonus Tip

You can also use the full circle method to start and finish your presentation with the same question. As an opening line, your question will make your audience think. It will compel them to listen to your presentation and learn the answers. As an ending, however, this same question will become rhetorical.

And speaking of questions…

3. Food for Thought Question Ending

The easiest way to end a speech on a good note is to leave your audience with a question. The kind of open-ended question that will inspire your audience to reflect on. Such questions can be so inviting, they will give your audience something exciting to think about and even think of throughout the day.

Examples of open-ended questions, depending on your topic, could sound like this.

  • What if it doesn’t work out that way?
  • What does this look like for you?
  • If you could do it over again, what would you do differently?

Unlike close-ended questions that the viewers can answer immediately on the spot and forget about your speech later, interesting open-ended questions that give them food for thought will inevitably surface on occasion.

For example, Lera Boroditski closes her topic on “How Language Shapes the Way We Think” with ” And that gives you the opportunity to ask: why do I think the way that I do? How could I think differently? And also, what thoughts do I wish to create?”

Bonus Tip

In order for your open-ended question to become food for thought, make sure your presentation raises it organically. It should sound like a relevant and logical conclusion to what you’ve built during your speech. Otherwise, the question would be forced and would seem like coming from nowhere. The best way to think of such an open-ended question is to reflect on what is the question you wished to answer during your presentation but couldn’t. Something that doesn’t have a solution yet.

  • Why do people fear losing things that they do not even have yet?
  • Why do we strive for perfection if it is not attainable?
  • How much control do you have over your life?
  • When will we reach a point where terraforming Mars will be our only chance at human survival? How can you influence this deadline?

This will give a great puzzle for your audience to solve and something to remember your presentation with, for a long time.

4. Inspire with Personal Involvement

If you have a story to share, don’t hesitate to inspire your audience with it during your own presentations.

This method is most powerful when we share a personal story or experience. Our vulnerability and personal touch are what will help you inspire your audience without sounding insincere or forcing them a piece of advice out of nowhere. The key here is to have credibility and personal involvement. It might come from your degree, accomplishments, or from your life’s story. Also, make sure the story is relatable and encourages empathy from your audience.

Steve Jobs gave a commencement speech at Stanford University sharing his personal experiences in order to inspire change in his audience’s mindset. He uses his authority and credibility to shape the spirit of leadership and entrepreneurship in young people. He aims to inspire people that they should learn to color outside the lines instead of following the patterns and structure of society. And he serves as a great example with his own life story and accomplishments.

Which makes the ending memorable and impactful: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

In conclusion, the entire speech builds up to this conclusion making it powerful as the personal involvement and experience make it sincere and inspirational.

5. Make Your Audience Laugh

If your topic allows it, one of the best ways to make your presentation memorable and a great experience for your audience is to end with a joke. Just make sure to craft a joke that relates to the main point of your presentation.

As an example for this tip, we chose the TED talk of webcartoonist Randall Munroe where he answers simple what-if questions using math, physics, logic, and -you guessed it- humor.

He ends by sharing an allegedly personal experience about receiving an email from a reader with a single subject line “Urgent”. “And this was the entire email: If people had wheels and could fly, how would we differentiate them from airplanes? Urgent. And I think that there are some questions math just cannot answer.

Final Words

In conclusion, the start and end of your presentation are crucial to its success. No matter the topic and goal of your presentation, you must always captivate your audience’s attention first, leaving the introductions and summaries for later. Having a great start for your presentation is what will keep your audience interested in what you have to say. However, the end is what your audience will be left with and will shape how they feel about your presentation and how they’ll remember it.  We hope we managed to inspire your inner public speaker to rock your presentation like a pro.

In the meantime, you could also check some more insights on related topics, gather inspiration, or simply grab a freebie?

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Al Boicheva

Al is an illustrator at GraphicMama with out-of-the-box thinking and a passion for anything creative. In her free time, you will see her drooling over tattoo art, Manga, and horror movies.

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