The most important part of a presentation is its beginning.
During that time, your audience will decide whether they’ll give you their full attention. To entice them, make listening easy.
How do you grab their attention, offer valuable insight and demonstrate your relevance?
Start at the beginning—and adopt these approaches:
Use the element of surprise.
Before you draft your next speech, consider what your audience might be expecting. Then, try to say something completely different.
For example, when baseball great Lou Gehrig had to quit the game because of a crippling disease that now bears his name, he made a farewell speech.
The audience was expecting an emotional speech. When Gehrig delivered his address, he barely mentioned his illness.
Fans, for the past two years you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ball parks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
Instead of talking about himself, he praised his fans and teammates. He gave the audience something memorable and unexpected.
Outline your intent.
Your audience will be more inclined to listen to you if they have clear expectations about what they can learn or gain.
Give them a reason to care by offering takeaways or lessons. Tell you audience why your topic should matter and how listening might make a difference in their lives.
For example, chef Jamie Oliver was giving a TED talk on why children should be taught about nutrition and healthy eating habits.
Here’s his opening line:
In the next 18 minutes when I do our chat, four Americans that are alive will be dead from the food that they eat.
Who wouldn’t stop in their tracks after hearing that? Catching your audience off guard at the start of your speech will often make them listen more intently.
Trade out long quotations for pithy proverbs.
Quoting famous people is a novice tactic.
The most well-known quotations are used too frequently. If you find a seemingly great quote from a popular website, it’s probably been used by someone else.
Avoid it. Instead, invest your time in crafting original material.
If you’re set on using another voice in your speech, choose lesser-known proverbs from a variety of cultures.
If you are talking about health care, quote the Irish proverb that says, “Every patient is a doctor after his cure.”
Perhaps you are opening remarks to talk about the art of negotiating. Quote a Japanese proverb, “The go-between wears out a thousand sandals.”
Avoid these approaches when beginning your presentation.
Now that you have an idea of how to start your presentation, is there anything you should avoid?
Yes. Here’s what not to do:
Don’t repeat what the person who introduced you has already told the audience. If you want to allude to certain facts, include them in relevant stories about yourself. Don’t recite your résumé.
Don’t waste your precious first two minutes acknowledging everyone who’s helped you along the way. Thank you audience for their time, but make sure it’s short and sweet. Then, dive in.
Don’t struggle through the beginning and end of your speech. Memorize both ends. Use that initial time to connect with everyone in the audience. It’s important to look at them and meet their eyes. If you must check your notes, do so during the middle of your speech.