Picture yourself in the audience.
Are you more likely to be engaged by a speaker who starts with a plea of “So, okay, let’s get started?” Or will you sit up and take note of a speaker who begins with a compelling statement? One example of the latter is talk given by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, on TEDWomen, where she began her Why we have too few women leaders speech with the statement, “For any of us in the room today, let’s start by admitting: we’re lucky.” Wouldn’t you want to know why?
Ultimately, your opening determines whether your audience will listen to the remainder of your presentation. Keeping that interest requires compelling content and a confident presentation.
What are some techniques for drawing in your audience in your opening?
- Begin with a provocative question. But don’t ask a question for the sake of just asking; instead, use the question for a purpose. If you are a motivational speaker, the question should create a connection by establishing a common goal. At business conferences, I often ask the audience who has implemented the software in question, and who is a novice, to better focus my presentation to the knowledge level of the attendees.
- Announce a compelling statistic or a surprising idea. Invoking another expert’s research, or introducing a concept that is not part of the mainstream, is also a way to ignite the audience’s interest.
- Start with a story. Share a personal story that supports the main point of your presentation. Or present a humorous story – but stay away from jokes. In a business context, a good strategy is to focus on the successes your customers have achieved; just remember to get permission to use customer references in public.
There are a few common misconceptions about presentation openers, which are better saved until after your initial, impactful opening. For example, in your opening statement, do not:
- Read the presentation title. The audience will suspect that you will read your entire presentation to them, which they can easily get from the conference proceedings instead.
- Elaborate on the main themes of your topics. Very often, we are tempted to walk the audience through a point-by-point agenda and delve too far into the details, instead of providing a roadmap to your presentation. Instead, start with the attention-grabbing opener, and subsequently summarize your main themes to set your overall context.
- Establish credibility. Answer the question of why you are the best person to present a particular topic. At some conferences, you will be introduced, and you will have the opportunity to provide your biography to the host or MC. At others, this is not an option; in that case, don’t start with your biography up-front. Use the techniques described to create a compelling opening, and introduce your expertise in a next step.
If you feel that you need “warm-up” time prior to starting, take a few minutes prior to entering the room to step away from the chaos of a conference to concentrate on your message, and look over any slides or visual aides you may be using. You might even practice your opening and closing – that way, you are not starting “cold” and can start your presentation energetically – and on a roll.
Find out more about clubs in District 4 Toastmasters: http://www.d4tm.org