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Captivate Your Audiences From Word One

Recently, I listened to a podcast of one of the better-known speakers of our time. It was very enlightening until … until.

 

When he mentioned how to open a presentation, he suggested that you first thank the person who hired you to speak and then tell the audience something like, “It’s a pleasure to be here with you today.” All I could think was, “Wow!”

 

To me, this is not a captivating opening. I think of it as a lackluster one at best. It doesn’t immediately grab the audience, which is what you want to do. Why? Because it sets you apart from the average speaker from word one.

 

Think about it. When you read a magazine article, it leads off with an attention-getting headline. There isn’t a “pre-headline” where the author writes how pleased they are to write the article for you. What would you have thought if, when you read this, it began with, “It’s a pleasure to write this for you.”?

 

When you go to a play, the actors don’t preempt their opening lines by thanking the producer and telling the audience that it’s a pleasure to perform for them. They simply get to it.

 

The best movies — at least as far as I’m concerned — immediately begin with a scene that draws you in, as opposed to those that make you sit through a minute or two of the production company’s logo displayed across the screen, followed by the names of the executive producers, director, and numerous others.

 

As for speaking, here are some of the ways you could open a presentation, depending on your audience, purpose, and occasion.

 

Question (rhetorical or otherwise)

If you are speaking about SEO, you might start with, “How often do you feel stressed because, no matter how hard you try, you can’t get your page to rank on the first page?

 

Story

Tell a story that immediately gets your audience engrossed in your presentation. 

 

Startling statement or statistic

Deliver a statement or statistic that startles people is the perfect way to get your audience to sit up and take notice.

 

Contrarian opinion

Open with a statement that your audience agrees with and then grab their attention by contradicting it. Depending on the audience, this can be risky.

 

Quotation

Get people thinking. A thought-provoking quote can do that. You can find quotes on just about any subject at brainyquote.com or other resources.

 

Take them back in time

Transporting them to another time instantly engages the audience members’ minds as they picture that scene. Begin with, “Let me take you back to …” or “Come back with me to …”

 

Vision

Have people picture possibilities, an outcome, or the future, and you have them right there with you. Start with, “Imagine …”

 

Things not to say include:

  • “Thank you” for the introduction.
  • “I’d like to thank …”
  • “It’s a pleasure to be here.”
  • “I’m not good at this.”
  • “I didn’t practice.”
  • “I’m nervous.”
  • “I need to apologize for …”
  • “Today, I’d like to talk about …”

 

And one more thing — jokes are usually not a good idea. Humor is powerful but planned jokes that require a strong set-up, a well-delivered punch line, and precise timing are difficult for most of us to tell well.

 

The speaker I mention above opens presentations in a way that works for him. But I would love to hear him deliver a presentation where he skips the soft opening and gets right to engaging the audience. Although it’s a small change, I believe it would transport him from being lumped in with a bunch of very good speakers to the relatively few who genuinely captivate their audiences.

 

My advice to you is to determine what kind of opening works best for you. No matter what it is, you are going to be better served — and more importantly, your listeners are going to be better served — when you immediately grab their attention.

Peter George

My expertise is in helping you be calm, confident, and credible every time speak in public -- whether you're speaking on stage, presenting in meetings, or selling to prospects. I do this through one-to-one coaching, corporate training, and public workshops. As a result, you can increase your impact, influence, and income.

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