Presentation Skills: Start Right

How do you start your meetings or presentations? If you've never asked yourself this question, it's possible that you're missing out on opportunities to begin on the right foot, and make a positive impression with your audience. As a coach, the start of a relationship is an important time to establish the parameters of the work we're going to do and agree on how we're going to do it.
This got me thinking about how the start of any meeting or presentation can influence the outcome. And that if you don't pay attention to how you start, you can set off on the wrong foot in the wrong direction and only become aware that you've done so afterwards. Or sometimes, rather worryingly, never become aware of it.
Here's what you're missing out on by neglecting to consider how you start a meeting or presentation:

  • A chance to speak: get comfortable before you need to present.
  • A chance to discuss: agree expectations for how the meeting will run
  • A chance to share: explain your reason for being there
  • A chance to check in: ask if what you have planned works for your audience  

Why don't we start well? There are a couple of possible reasons:
"I want to get 'it' out of the way." For many people, meetings and presentations are not enjoyable. So, they suffer. But they want to limit their pain so they do this by diving in to finish it as soon as possible.
"I'll give all control to the person I'm meeting and presenting to." This is polite behaviour. We want something from them (forgetting completely that we have something to give in return). We allow the other person to start and therefore take control of what happens with the meeting. This happens well before the meeting but that's a whole other story.
Does this ring a bell with you? If you have these feelings, they could indicate a lack of belief in yourself. By changing how you start meetings and presentations you can make a real difference to your confidence levels. There are two simple actions to start your meetings and presentations off on the right foot:
Create an agenda: shape your agenda and then share and agree it in advance along with any documents that require feedback. Do this at least 48 hours in advance. This should include the items up for discussion, who's attending, the duration of the meeting and a single line description of the overall and shared purpose of the meeting.
Make time: Arrive ten minutes before the meeting is due to begin. This also allows for any late comers or last-minute hitches. This gets you there nice and early. Why would you want to eat into your own time?
It also means you have some time to use at the beginning of the meeting or presentation to shape a successful outcome. Use this time to do the following:
Lead the meeting: By sharing the agenda, it's permissible for you to lead off. Start with your introduction and a thank you to all parties for making the time to discuss this subject with you.
Introductions and checking in: You frame the meeting. Start with "Here's why we're all gathered here today". Then describe the suggested roadmap for the meeting and the rules of the road. What will happen with questions (as they occur or at the end?) Is everybody happy with that? Anything to add?
Personal introductions: A round of introductions to get everyone into the room. Simply name and job title and what's your goal for the meeting.
And that's it. You're now ready to begin the meeting. Everyone is on, or close to being on, the same page. And you're ready to move forwards together. What happens next is up to you!

Look out for the next piece on how to end.

John Scarrott is a trainer and coach working with marketing professionals on their skills of influential communication. He is the IDM's retained Presentation Skills trainer and coach. His next Presentation Skills Workshop is running on January 30th 2018. Find out more about him at or follow him @JohnDScarrott.

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