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I am a student who has to do public speaking in front of other students at my university.

What would be the most effective way to start the presentation so that my audience doesn't get bored within the first few seconds?

Starting with "Hi, I am Bob. I study Chemistry and I will talk about squirrels today" sounds extremely boring.

Is there any general structure that should be used, so it can be used in any presentation topic?

Is there even any need to introduce yourself? As I've been heard the audience doesn't care about what your name is or what your job is, just what you will be talking about.

  • It's perfectly fine if you take a minute or two to get going with your talk, as any university-level audience will be used to this. A public audience may be less forgiving. In either case, the answers to this question are great suggestions on what to do to keep their attention once you get started. – Gaurav Jun 12 '15 at 23:24
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    If somebody's introduced you, there's no need to repeat anything they've just said about you or your talk. Beyond that, who's the audience? If you're talking to the department of chemistry, they've probably already guessed that you study chemistry. If you're talking to the squirrel science group or your title is "The chemistry of squirrels", they've probably already guessed you study squirrels. – David Richerby Jun 12 '15 at 23:33
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It depends on where you're presenting and who you're presenting to. If this seminar/conference/class has a moderator who introduces you, then you don't need to introduce yourself. Typically, this will be the case, instead of them just sending you on stage without an introduction.

Either way, begin your presentation with a motivating example, which might also explain why you're qualified to talk about the subject to your audience. "You might not think chemistry has a lot to do with squirrels, but it was recently discovered that squirrels' pineal glands secrete a unique chemical that..."

Since you're speaking to other students, be sure to keep the talk at a level that they can understand without a particular background in your field. And once you've started well, do the rest of the presentation well too.

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I would still briefly introduce myself - it is IMHO simply disrespectful to an audience not to do that.

As for the very first minutes of presentation, I suggest starting with some fascinating and/or little-known facts (or mysteries) about your topic (i.e., "did you know squirrels can do (have) ..."). That should grab your audience's attention. Now, to keep it that way, you have to smoothly transition to your main content, unfolding the story line and painting a big picture by presenting material in a larger context. The flow of the story is one of the most important aspects of a good presentation. Easier said than done, but you should strive for it.

Another (additional) approach to keep your audience's attention is to periodically interact with people during presentation, time permitting. A dialog should be designed in such way that you initiate it at specific, appropriate places during your presentation. It doesn't mean that you should stop interaction, if it happens elsewhere, but you have to plan your breakpoints, nevertheless.

Finally, depending on a venue, audience and topic, an appropriate use of audio-visual tools might be a very good idea. For example, you can start your presentation by showing a slideshow with fascinating images or a brief video, illustrating problem and/or solutions that you will be presenting afterwards. Try to apply some creativity to your presentation and you won't have to worry about being boring and trying to catch your audience's attention. Hope this helps. Good luck!

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    Be very, very careful about the use of audio-visual tools. I have seen far more presentations lose momentum and be derailed by problems with them than I have seen use them smoothly. Make sure you test everything you will depend on, in the room in which you are giving the presentation. Have an alternative plan in case things go wrong. – Patricia Shanahan Jun 12 '15 at 21:37
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    @PatriciaShanahan: I agree. But, when used properly and appropriately, they IMHO can significantly enrich presentation for the benefits of both the presenter and the audience. – Aleksandr Blekh Jun 12 '15 at 21:40
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    I disagree that it's disrespectful to not introduce yourself. If you've already been introduced and your first slide has your name on it (both of these things are probably true) then I don't think any respect is conveyed by saying who you are. In fact, quite the opposite: by telling them who you are for a third time, you're almost suggesting they weren't paying attention to the first two. – David Richerby Jun 12 '15 at 23:35
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    OK. That wasn't obvious to me, not least because I don't think I've ever given a talk where I wasn't introduced. Most of those introductions were of the form, "Our next speaker is David Richerby who'll talk to us about squirrels" but they were introductions. – David Richerby Jun 13 '15 at 0:07
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    @DavidRicherby: Perhaps, my assumption is due to me not having been at enough talks yet. Hopefully, that will change in not so distant future... ;-). – Aleksandr Blekh Jun 13 '15 at 0:18
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It's best to give a brief introduction as others mentioned, but I don't think there is a right or wrong structure.

I have been to conferences where high ranking officers (we're talking one and two-stars in the US military) would use lot of humor and interesting graphics in their presentations. They were knowledgeable AND were at ease with the audience, as if they are friends.

No need to be stuffy if the audience is more professional .... honestly a presentation where it sounds like you are presenting to your best friend is the most entertaining, because it's real.

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Take into account that your first couple of sentences will mainly be useful as a way for people to get attuned to your voice.

Start with a slide with your topic, your name, your affiliation, and any acknowledgments you might have.

Next you might want to have something that functions as an outline of what's to come, in very broad terms.

A lot depends on how formal or informal this talk is supposed to be. If it's okay to be informal, you can talk at some point about how you became interested in the topic. If you have any cartoons that are relevant to your material, that is a good way of keeping people awake.

Do give a friend your talk beforehand as a rehearsal.

Do not stare at the screen during your delivery.

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