Grabbing your audience’s attention as soon as you start to speak is an important part of public speaking, whether you’re contributing to a discussion or making a presentation. One of my favourite ways is to make a startling statement, often using a dramatic statistic. In a recent speech about online scamming, I opened with the shocking fact that £10 billion is lost in the UK every year to scammers – that’s almost £200 per person.
There are lots of other ways to make a powerful opening but here are some of the ones I think are most effective:
Ask a rhetorical question – this will get people thinking even though they know they are not required to answer the question. I think the rhetorical question is particularly effective when used in combination with a dramatic statement.
Tell a personal story – I often advise my speakers to ‘give of themselves’ when presenting. It’s important to create a connection with your audience and a personal anecdote will do that, especially if it has emotional relevance to your subject matter.
Use a quotation – try to avoid the usual quotes from famous speakers or celebrities. Find something relevant, wise and compelling from an unusual source. You might consider quoting someone from your own business, family or even from your audience.
Tell a joke – so long as the joke is relevant and genuinely funny, this is an engaging way to start. Injecting humour into your presentations is a skill that is worth developing but remember that there can be a fine line between funny and offensive.
Evoke an image or an emotion – ask the audience to imagine a scenario that resonates with them, either practically or emotionally. This technique engages the audience with your thought process from the beginning of your presentation.
Tap into their desires – there aren’t many people that would ignore your presentation if they felt it would give them something they wanted. Starting by demonstrating how you can help them will grab their attention and interest.
The most important thing is that you make the most of your first ten seconds. A powerful opening makes your audience sit up and listen, paving the way for you to persuade, influence, inform or simply entertain in the rest of your presentation.