“All eyes and ears on me please.” ― PRO tips to start STRONG in your speech or presentation [Wednesdays: “Speak on the Shoulders of Giants”]
Audience attention is important in public speaking.
It’s one of the things you have to maintain throughout your speech or presentation.
At the beginning of your talk, you have about a few seconds to intrigue people with what you have to say.
… and what you say at the end of your presentation will strongly influence how you and your message will be remembered.
What can you do to make sure your audience is captivated enough that they dare not turn their attention away from you?
According to TED’s curator, Chris Anderson, one way is to…
Start with an opening that grabs people’s attention from the first moment!
In a previous “Speak on The Shoulders of Giants” article, we talked about how a Power Opener can help you capture the attention of thousands of people.
Your Power Opener can be in the form of:
- A surprising statement
- An intriguing question
- A short story or anecdote
- A captivating image
… and more.
In this article, we’ll talk about Anderson’s take on 4 different ways to start strong in your speech or presentation:
Deliver a dose of drama!
Your first words in a speech or presentation matter.
What you say at the beginning will determine how your audience will respond to your message.
In planning and creating your opening statement, let your talk’s throughline be your guide. Think about how you can introduce the idea of your talk in the most compelling way possible.
“If my talk was a movie or novel, how would I want it to start?”
Answering this question doesn’t mean you have to immediately put something dramatic into your opening sentence. If you carelessly do this, you’ll find yourself standing awkwardly on stage, with your audience looking awkwardly at you.
You just have to make sure that an important message lands on your listeners as you deliver your opening statement so they will be compelled to listen throughout your talk.
Here’s an example from American author Zak Ebrahim…
In 2014, Ebrahim came to TED to deliver a speech about how he chose the “path of peace” despite being a son of a terrorist.
In his opening statement, he said:
“On November 5, 1990, a man named El-Sayyid Nosair walked into a hotel in Manhattan and assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane, the leader of the Jewish Defense League. Nosair was initially found not guilty of the murder, but while serving time on lesser charges, he and other men began planning attacks on a dozen New York City landmarks, including tunnels, synagogues, and the United Nations headquarters. Thankfully, those plans were foiled by an FBI informant. Sadly, the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center was not. Nosair would eventually be convicted for his involvement in the plot. El-Sayyid Nosair is my father.”
Because of that opener, Ebrahim’s audience was riveted. Everybody’s eyes and ears were on him, looking forward to what he had to say next.
In another instance, American sociologist Alice Goffman also delivered a powerful TED talk in 2015 about how the American society is priming some children for college.
This was what she said in her opener:
“On the path that American children travel to adulthood, two institutions oversee the journey. The first is the one we hear a lot about: College. College has some shortcomings. It’s expensive, it leaves young people in debt. But all in all, it’s a pretty good path…
Today, I want to talk about the second institution overseeing the journey from childhood to adulthood in the United States. That institution is prison.”
That kind of framing enabled Goffman to talk about her message in a way that got the attention of her audience. By the end of her presentation, listeners left the venue with new information they would carry with them for the rest of their lives.
These examples show how delivering “a dose of drama” at the start of your talk can help win the attention of your audience. However, you also have to be mindful because it’s possible to overdo the drama and lose your audience’s interest in the process.
To prevent that from happening, establish a connection with your audience first before hitting them with a dramatic thunderbolt. Drama delivered right can be a great way to kickstart your presentation.
This is one of the most versatile tools for ensuring audience engagement.
If your goal is to build an idea in your listeners’ minds, curiosity is a fuel that can help power active participation from the attendees of your talk.
So… how do you spark curiosity?
One common way is to ask a question.
However, there are some instances where speakers don’t ask a question at all. They simply frame their topics in an unexpected way that clicks an audience’s curiosity button.
Here’s an example from astronomer Janna Levin’s TED talk in 2011 about the sound that the universe makes:
“I want to ask you all to consider for a second the very simple fact that, by far, most of what we know about the universe comes to us from light. We can stand on the Earth and look up at the night sky and see stars with our bare eyes. The Sun burns our peripheral vision. We see light reflected off the Moon. And in the time since Galileo pointed that rudimentary telescope at the celestial bodies, the known universe has come to us through light, across vast eras in cosmic history. And with all of our modern telescopes, we’ve been able to collect this stunning silent movie of the universe―these series of snapshots that go all the way back to the Big Bang. And yet, the universe is not a silent movie because the universe isn’t silent. I’d like to convince you that the universe has a soundtrack and that soundtrack is played on space itself, because space can wobble like a drum.”
See how you can ignite your audience’s curiosity even without explicitly asking a question?
Levin’s talk testifies to that!
Remember that curiosity is a magnet that pulls your audience to your talk. If you can wield that tool effectively, you can turn even difficult subjects into winning talks.
Show a compelling slide, video, object, or other visual tools.
Another method to make a great opening hook is by presenting an impactful or intriguing picture or video.
In 2015, when Canadian designer Elora Hardy delivered a presentation about beautifully-designed bamboo houses, the first thing she did was show the audience a photo of her drawing when she was just 9 years old.
“When I was nine years old, my mom asked me what I would want my house to look like, and I drew this fairy mushroom… and then she built it.”
After saying that, gasps were heard across the venue and most of her listeners complimented how cute her drawing looked like and how sweet her mother was!
That was just Hardy’s introduction to a series of stunning images of her own work as an architect and designer, yet look how fast she engaged the audience―just 2 sentences and listeners were already amazed!
Using this method works well for photographers, artists, architects, designers, or those whose profession is fundamentally visual.
Question: Does this mean you can’t use this approach if you don’t belong to any of these categories?
The answer is NO.
This also works to your advantage if you’re delivering a conceptual talk. Providing your audience with appropriate visual support will help them imagine or visualize your message in their minds.
Tease, but don’t give your main point right away!
Have you watched the movie, “Jaws?”
That film owes a lot of its impact to the fact that director Steven Spielberg hid the shark for the first half of the movie.
Viewers knew the creature was coming, for sure… but its invisibility helped keep movie goers on the edge of their seats!
This movie concept can also be applied in public speaking.
There are times when some speakers disclose too much information in their opening statements.
While doing so is not necessarily wrong, immediately giving away the punchline of your talk might make you lose your audience’s interest.
It’s because they might think everything they need to know from your presentation is mentioned at the beginning!
When that happens, even if what follows your introduction is full of nuance, logic, passion, and persuasion, your audience may no longer be listening.
Instead of giving away all important information quickly, think about what kind of language will attract your listeners into wanting to “come along for the ride.”
It’s all right to save the big revelations for the middle or end of your talk. As for your opening statements, your goal should be to convince your audience to step away from their comfort zones and join you in going down a path that leads to new and useful knowledge.
In crafting an appropriate and powerful opener for your talk, you may draw inspiration from any or all of the above.
The key is to find a good fit for you and the message you’re talking about. Then, persuade your audience that your talk is going to be a worthy investment of their attention.
Give your presentation opener your best shot! When you and your audience are fully engaged in your talk…
Congratulations! You’ll both be on your way towards a journey of amazing discovery.
About The Dynamic Marketing Communiqué’s
“Wednesdays: Speak on the Shoulders of Giants”
In a meeting with one person
…a boardroom with five people
…or a huge venue with hundreds of people
—whatever the situation or setting, it’s very important to learn and eventually master the art of public speaking.
No matter what, you always need to effectively get your message across.
What good is a presentation with awesome content if you don’t deliver it properly?
Every Wednesday, we publish different tips, insights, and secrets on how you can improve your presentation skills to captivate your audience and lead interesting discussions.
The need for great presentation skills applies EVERYWHERE.
(Small meetings with your team, big meetings with your boss, an important marketing pitch, speaking engagements for events with a big audience, etc.)
Learning these skills is not just for the corporate world. Being in other industries such as the Arts, Information Technology, Medicine, and Education while knowing how to present well will definitely give you an edge.
Have that advantage.
Hope you’ve found this week’s public speaking tip interesting and helpful.
Stay tuned for next Wednesday’s Speak on the Shoulders of Giants!
Head of Marketing
Valens Dynamic Marketing Capabilities
Powered by Valens Research