When you head into your presentation or speech, two-thirds of your audience is predisposed to not listen to you. Whoa. That’s a pretty rough statistic to have to beat – which is why it’s absolutely critical you nail the beginning of your speech. I’ve addressed the importance of your appearance and non-verbals, but what comes out of your mouth in the first few minutes will determine how engaged your audience will be.
Consider using some of these opening tactics, which have proven highly successful for both my clients and me over the years:
- Find an intriguing news headline. Audiences appreciate something timely that they can all relate to. Don’t rely on celebrity stories; find something that has applicability to the people in the room. The aim is to find common ground and then have people in the audience ask themselves the question, “Where is he going with this?”
- Unearth a mysterious date. Don’t lead with an obvious date. Look for a date in history that will initially puzzle people. “The date was April 13, 1973. An event occurred that day that changed the world. It’s a shame no one noticed. What happened?” You’re building suspense as people start thinking to themselves, “I don’t know what happened on April 13, 1973.” If done well, they’ll eagerly await the punch line.
- Tell a personal story. Be relatable right from the start. Showing your humanity and vulnerability will set the tone for everything that follows. People love it when well-accomplished speakers show their flaws and that they are just like them.
- Open with a memorable quote. A famous quote from a well-respected or revered individual can help introduce your ideas in a way that provides the audience context about the topic at hand. Deliver the right quote, and you’ll start to see heads nod in affirmation. You can just hear everyone in the audience saying to themselves, “You’re right. I agree. That’s so true!”
- Go visual. You can build an air of mystery by rolling out a series of cryptic slides that lead an audience to an unexpected place. If you are speaking about the power of value investing, create a scene for a distinct and colorful introduction. Instead of an image of Warren Buffet, display a bottle of Heinz ketchup and a can of Benjamin Moore Paint. Put on an apron from the Pampered Chef, and hand everyone some peanut brittle from See’s Candy.
If you can get your audience to invest in you from the beginning, you’re well on your way to having a successful presentation.