Create A Strong Opening Statement
One of the best speakers I ever heard was a guy who started with such a touching and inspiring story of how he overcame personal tragedy. As I listened, I couldn’t help but think: If this guy can come from the depths of despair to build a successful business and life, there is nothing anyone (including myself) can’t do.
I did not spend a lot (or any) time thinking about whether or not he used strong opening sentences. In the first 30 seconds, this guy had secured my undivided attention, and he kept it for the entire presentation. Throughout his presentation he revisited the story he started with, connecting it to the real purpose of his presentation. When I left his presentation that day, I felt like something inside of me had changed for the better just from hearing his story.
THAT’S also one way you can open a business presentation.
Public Speaking Openings
I don’t know about you, but I feel like there is so much information coming at me from every direction, every day. And because there’s so much of it (and so little time to sift through it all), I am much more selective about what I take in—and a bit stingy with the amount of time I am willing to spend on any one thing. I know I’m not the only one: Studies have shown marketers have fewer than 10 seconds to grab a customer’s interest. We’re bored easily, and there’s so much to choose from that we just turn off whatever bores us and move on quickly to something else.
Thankfully, you have more than just 10 seconds to grab your audience’s attention with your public speaking opening—but not much. In the first 30 seconds of your presentation, your listeners will have formed their opinion of you and decided whether or not they will listen to what you are going to say. That’s it. Thirty seconds.
I probably don’t have to say this, but if all you’ve got is 30 seconds to hook them, the last thing you want to do is approach a presentation as you would a marathon. If you save your energy for the end of the race, you’ll realize everyone else has already dropped out. When you’re the only one crossing the finish line, it’s not much of a victory, is it?
So one of the most important skills you can learn is to create a strong opening statement: A brief but powerful introduction that draws in your audience immediately will set the scene for an incredibly successful presentation. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Bring the audience back to another time (retrospective) or paint a picture of the future (prospective). Why is this effective? Because not many people live in the present. They’re either reminiscing of the past or dreaming of the future. You might as well use that to your advantage.
- Use a quote—but don’t pick one so obscure and vague that no one will get the gist. And try to use a quote by someone quotable. (So unless your grandma said something really profound or hilarious that it will get your audience’s attention, don’t quote her.)
- Find a random, interesting fact that you can somehow tie to your presentation. For example: Did you know that the postage stamp of the Statue of Liberty is not a depiction of the statue in New York, but rather of the replica in Las Vegas? That piece of information probably isn’t particularly important to your audience, but it is interesting. And it’s a relevant piece of trivia if you’re doing a presentation on, say, perception versus reality.
Public Speaking: Openings & Closings
By far, the absolute best way to open a presentation is through storytelling. A story establishes an emotional connection with your audience that will keep them engaged. And do you know where to find the best stories? From you! Exceptional speakers draw upon their own life experiences to connect with their audiences because they know how to tell them in a way that other people can easily relate to. Plus, when you tell a story about yourself, the narrative is far more passionate and flows more naturally. No cue cards needed!
Make it a habit to jot down the things that cause you to have strong feelings, whether it’s happiness, sadness, anger… whatever. These are gems that will come in handy for future presentations, mark my words.
Commit it To Memory
Here’s one last piece of advice: When it comes to your opening, know it by heart. Memorize it. You’ve only got 30 seconds to grab your audience and keep their attention, so do it right. Don’t wing it, don’t use bullet notes—memorize it. I know I’ve said memorizing speeches is bad—this is one part where you have to make an exception, it’s only a sentence or two.
How would you rate your presentation openings? Do you start with a story or open with some humor? What works for you? Tell us about it in the Comments section or find us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ and join the conversation there.