The beginning of a speech is no different from the beginning of a book, song or movie: It has to capture the attention of the audience fast—or you’ll lose it.
Once the audience is lost, it’s very hard to get them back.
Enter the icebreaker. Icebreakers hook listeners and ensure they commit to listening to every word you say.
However, like six-pack abs, icebreakers are something everyone wants but few can produce. Never fear—here are five tips you can use to start your next speech:
1. Break some news.
Most human beings like to be “in the know.” We feel good when we have the inside scoop, the latest intel, the word on the street.
Make your audience feel good by sharing a bit of news with them. It can be big or small news, current or current-ish. Share an article you read in the paper that morning, or the fact the cafeteria just ran out of three-bean salad. It could be news about the Dow Jones taking a hit, or that you passed an accident on the way to your speech.
Do your best to tie in the news with your topic. For example, we all do the same thing when we see a car accident—we remember that life is short and fragile. That concept of the fragility of life can tie in with a speech on the power of good nutrition for our health. You get the idea.
2. Poke fun at yourself.
Not everyone is blessed with a genuinely funny funnybone. Many people believe they are funny, but many people also believe they can wear clingy, tight-fitting clothes. News flash: It’s not necessarily so.
As a general rule, speakers should avoid trying to tell jokes. That doesn’t mean you can’t poke a little fun at yourself, though. A joke at one’s own expense usually sets an audience at ease immediately, as long as the joke is in good taste and doesn’t make the audience feel sad for you.
A good joke area: The fact that this morning your 6-year-old looked at you and asked, “Why is your stomach so soft?” You appreciated her candor and were reminded that being transparent is always a good thing, no matter how unpleasant the message.
A bad joke area: Making jokes about why your wife divorced you and took the kids and all your money.
See the difference? Good, moving on …
3. Get them engaged.
Simply listening can be a really passive endeavor. If you want to activate your audience quickly, get them to engage with you immediately. This could be something as simple as having everyone who likes baked beans raise his or her hand, then everyone who hates baked beans, and finally those who are indifferent. Obviously, baked beans is a silly example, but you get the idea. Start a real two-way conversation with your audience. Adding a physical movement such as raising a hand or even better, standing, is a big engagement bonus.
Just remember to always stay positive with your questions so people can feel confident and good about themselves.
A good question: “Who here wants to have a better relationship with their kids, raise your hand?” (Well, any parents worth their salt want to have the best relationship possible with their kids. Your audience members will be happy to shoot their hands up in the air.)
A bad question: “Who here has been told they have bad breath, raise your hand?” (Crickets. No one in their right mind is going to admit that little tidbit to the world.)
4. Leave them hanging.
You know how to keep audience members on the edge of their seats? Start to tell them a story, but don’t tell them the conclusion. Make them wait for it and tell them it’ll come a bit later. This is a powerful way to engage your audience and keep them attentive.
5. Start with an interesting fact.
If you don’t know how to use data or statistics correctly, they can come off as a little dull. When used effectively, though, they can spark people’s interest and illuminate your topic.
Make sure your data are relevant. If your topic is using social media to boost website traffic, there is no reason to share a statistic about newspaper ads. Think of how you can take what could be a boring bit of data and make it relatable to your audience.
For instance, when Steve Jobs gave his first keynote speech introducing the original iPod music player, he first told the crowd that this new device offered 5 gigabytes of data. Now, had he stopped there, he would have totally lost his audience, whose eyes would have glazed over like a Krispy Kreme donut.
Instead, he continued by explaining that five gigabytes of data allowed you to save up to 5,000 songs in your pocket. This became a great collective “a-ha” moment for the audience. They cared, because we all connect emotionally to music.
These five icebreaker hacks will help you to engage, inspire and entertain your audience. Try them out, and don’t be afraid to make them your own.