What is the best opening you have ever experienced? Perhaps it was a book, play, movie, or talk.
For me, it took place on a warm July evening when my high school girlfriend and I went to see Eric Clapton — the first concert for each of us. At exactly 8:00, the house lights went out. With no stage lights on, it was almost eerily dark. About a minute went by, and then, without warning, a chord from Eric’s guitar rang out. Immediately, the stage lights flashed on, and the band came to life. Eric and his group had accomplished what they set out to do — hook the audience from the first instant. What an experience! What a memory!
How different it would have been if “Slowhand” came out with the stage lights on, strolled up to the microphone, and said, “Hey, Providence. It’s a pleasure to be here. But before the band and I begin to play, I would like to thank XYZ Productions for scheduling this event. And we have to give a nod to the local roadies who assisted our crew.”
The music would have been just as good, but would the overall experience have been the same? Would we have been as engrossed as we were? Would the memory have remained so vivid after all these years? I have to believe the answer to all three questions is no.
As a public speaker, whether you are speaking in a meeting or on stage, you, too, need to grab your audience’s attention right at the start. Why? There are several reasons, but the greatest one is that if you don’t grab your listeners’ attention from the beginning, you will have to work especially hard to get them engaged. You might be able to accomplish this, but it is not easy.
Would you like an example in another form of communication that demonstrates how grabbing attention at the start is essential? Take a moment to look at the articles in this issue. Do any thank the publisher and editor for allowing them to write their article? Do the authors begin by writing how excited they are to be able to write for you? Do they note that they are nervous or are not very good at writing? No, no, and no. They get right to the point, and that is precisely what you should do when presenting.
How to open your presentations
There are many ways to quickly engage an audience, including a striking image or video, startling statistic, and quote. But perhaps the two most impactful openings are a question and a story. Each has the opportunity to captivate your listeners immediately. And when you combine them by asking a question and then illustrating your answer with a story, it is beyond powerful. Posing a question and following it with a story is how I open most of my presentations.
Memorize your opening
If you are like most speakers, you are most nervous at the beginning of your presentations. It is when your adrenaline is rushing. Because of this, I strongly recommend that you memorize your opening.
Memorizing your opening offers you several advantages, including reducing nervousness, allowing you to focus on connecting with your audience, and preparing you to deliver with impact.
Do your listeners and yourself a favor. Create an attention-grabbing opening every time you deliver a presentation. Only then will you have a significant opportunity for your listeners to be an integral part of your presentations.
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