How to grab immediate attention when you start your presentation


How can you hook your audience and get attention immediately when you start your presentation or speech? Use the following tips to get off to a flying start.

Start with a quote

If you want your speech to carry extra authority, it can be helpful to open it with a quotation from a respected figure.

You can also play around with a familiar quote. For example:

“Einstein once remarked that ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ Speaking personally, when I heard this, I immediately felt a whole lot better about my own schooldays. All those happy hours I spent in History lessons, gazing out of the window and dreaming I was a professional footballer…”

Begin with a story

People love to hear a story. It is particularly helpful if you can start your story with a dramatic incident. If you open it with: “I have never believed in ghosts, until recently when I stayed in a 17th century hotel that was rumoured to be haunted.” If you begin by taking your audience straight into an interesting story, you can be pretty sure everyone will listen from that moment on.

Ask an interesting question

Many of the best presentations and speeches begin with a simple question. Why? Because a good question immediately engages your audience.

I began a recent speech by asking my audience: “Which is the world’s happiest country?” Other openings I’ve used include: “Did you choose your career or did your career choose you?” Openings like these are designed to arouse the interest of the audience.

Clearly, the more interesting, intriguing and relevant the question you begin with, the more your audience will be engrossed by it.

Use a startling fact

A startling fact can have the same effect on your audience as an interesting question. It wakes them up!

For a speech about public health you might start with: “Tobacco has killed more people worldwide than the First and Second World Wars combined.” You can then go on to comment on ways public health can be improved and the important role of preventative medicine.

If you have a dry and serious subject to talk about, your need for a personal story to enliven it is all the greater.

  • Link to other events

Look it the date of your presentation as it may be the anniversary of a historical event such as the first Moon landing or a famous person’s birthday. It might be a National Day of some kind: National Men Make Dinners Day, National Day of Listening, National Parents as Teachers Day…

Find a way to reference the occasion at the start of your speech and you can then weave that reference into the narrative of your speech.

The unexpected

Begin with the unexpected. For instance, I’ve started with: “I have a confession for you tonight.” I explained that I belong to a small minority within the population and that people like me have been persecuted over the ages. From that opening, the room was listening intently. This was a speech about left-handedness and how, thankfully, we are no longer persecuting left-handed people as was the case in the Middle Ages. The opening led me directly into the key point: a plea for greater tolerance of those in our society who are different.

Dramatic visual aids

Using a visual aid dramatically can get your audience to sit up in their seats.

Dananjaya Hettiarachchi, the 2014 World Champion of Public Speaking gives a masterclass in how to do this. He takes a flower from his pocket and breaths in the scent. It’s worth watching the video on YouTube to see what happens next! Using a great visual aid is likely to make your words more memorable.

Good luck giving your next presentation or speech the best possible start.


Gordon Adams is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit