Speakers have about 60 seconds to capture their audience's attention, establish credibility, introduce their topic, and inspire the audience to listen, according to Darlene Price, author of "Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results.”
Here are a few simple tips for capturing the attention of your audience before you even open your mouth:
- Walk to center stage
- Stand still with your weight evenly distributed
- Gaze intently at the audience, with a light smile
- After the room falls silent, give a slight nod
- Pick a listener who seems receptive, make eye contact with them, and deliver your opening line to them.
Your opening line should captivate the audience. Avoid starting off with an agenda or housekeeping, an apology (for jetlag, your flu, delay in the agenda or anything else), excessive thank-yous, or an irrelevant joke. Catch their attention, and make them want to listen to what you have to say. If your audience drifts off in the first minute of your talk, the chances of you being able to bring them back them later on diminishes.
1. Captivate them with storytelling
Storytelling has become a major buzzword across a lot of industries, for good reason. When it comes to inspiring people to embrace new information, storytelling is simply the best way to enthrall your audience. Make sure the story captures the point of your message, and can be told between a minute and a minute and a half. There are many kinds of stories you can tell to make your point or introduce your topic. Read below for four interesting ways to use storytelling in your introduction.
Take the driver’s seat by sharing your perspective on the topic. Why are you invested in sharing this information? What challenges have you faced when it comes to your topic? What did you do to overcome obstacles? What have you learned? Did you have any “AHA!” moments? Always keep in mind your desired outcome: be clear on what you want your audience to get out of your story.
2. An analogy or allegory
Instead of diving into exact examples of your topic, abstract your message with a parable or metaphor. Unleash your listener’s imaginations, while outlining why your message is important for the audience to tune into.
3. Describe a historical event
Paint a verbal picture of an iconic moment that was relevant to your message or topic. Don’t feel like you need to stick 100% to the history textbooks, but make sure to have your facts correct. By humanizing historical events, you can make the topic more relevant to the listeners.
4. Help the audience imagine a world where the problem has been solved
If you are going to dive into a message where you have a desired action you’d like the audience to take, engage them with a story about what the world would look like after the desired action has made an effect. This sets the stage for why your message is important for the listeners.
2. Use a powerful and relevant quote
Words that are well crafted can leave a lasting impact on the audience. If a sentence has been tried and tested, you can have confidence that it will influence. A great quote can lend credibility to you and your message, by drawing on the likeability, influence and notoriety of the person who originally said these words first.
Sometimes it is difficult to find the exact quote that will encapsulate the meaning of your message. Some speakers find it useful to keep track of their favorite quotes on their subject, and when it is time to present, they have a collection to draw from, rather than trying to find the perfect quote when it comes to writing your intro.
When choosing a quote, make sure:
- it is relatively short and to the point,
- it supports your message,
- it is punchy and direct and the meaning is clear,
- it comes from a source you trust, and that your audience knows,
- you are aware of the original context of the quote,
- it has not been overused or is too cliché.
After delivering the quote, give a brief description of what it means and how it relates to your topic or message. Avoid using the quote instead of your own words, it is meant to add value and weight to your introduction, not replace it.
3. Get them thinking with a question
Questions are one of the most interactive ways to start off a presentation as break down the barrier between the speaker and the audience: which can set you up to create a more engaging presentation.
There are many ways to start off your presentation with a question, and different kinds of questions can produce different effects. Always remember to use well-timed pauses to give your audience a chance to think about your question before you bring them back into your message.
Here are a few of the different kinds of questions you can start your presentation off with, and the effect they will have on your talk:
Rhetorical questions are often used by speakers for their persuasive effects; they get the audience to form an opinion in their mind, which you can use to further your message. Make sure when you are choosing your rhetorical question that it draws your audience in, and sets them on the course to agreeing with you. Having them disagree with you outright in the first minute of your talking will make it harder for them to connect with you as your presentations progresses.
Ask for a simple response
When you ask a question and want a response by a show of hands: you demand engagement from your audience, which can have an immediate effect on their attention levels. Always remember to keep your question very simple, with a “yes” or “no” answer. If you are going to use this method of asking questions, try to envision a question where you might get a mixed response from the audience, or you risk them not getting involved at all. For example, if your question has too obvious an answer, or everyone in the room will answer the same, it loses its engagement factor.
Use intellectual puzzles
Puzzles get your audience to start thinking outside the box; getting the audience to start thinking differently, unconventionally, or from a new perspective. Using a simple puzzle is effective when you want the audience to start thinking creatively. By tapping into their ability to problem solve, you fire up their brain, and turn them from passively receiving information to actively being engaged with it.
4. Surprising statistic or headline
A shocking statistic, bold headline, or a startling statement/claim can capture the attention of your audience. Just make sure it directly relates to the topic of your presentation, and supports your message. The impact comes from its ability to persuade the audience to listen and act on your message.
If you are going to use statistics or facts, make sure that you back them up with a reputable source, as this will increase your credibility. Audiences will find it difficult to be persuaded if they can’t trust your information.
You can even relate the issue directly to your listeners by giving a brief, gripping, vivid description of a problem faced by the audience. Highlight why the audience should care, and what will happen if they don’t. Although some theatrics can liven up your introduction, too much can turn the audience off, so just make sure that you are hitting the correct balance.
5. Capture attention by going visual
We have all heard the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” and sometimes the best way to give your audience a lot of information quickly is through imagery. There are a lot of ways you can use imagery in your introduction, which can dramatically increase the engagement and curiosity of your audience.
Here are three different types of visuals you can use to engage your listeners.
A high quality photo (which is not a stock photo) not only appeals to your audience’s visual cortex, but it can increase their ability to quickly understand you, activate their imagination and help them remember your message more clearly. Make sure your photo sets the right tone for your talk. Give your audience a few moments to carefully look over the photo before jumping into an explanation: this way you do not split their attention and when you start to speak, they will be fully tuned in.
The beauty of using a video is it can say a lot very quickly. You also have a lot of options for how you would like to present your message, all with the ability to set the tone for your talk. Whether you opt to go for a “voxpop” with someone on the street or a quick interview with an attendee from the conference, you commission an animation to outline your process, or you have a project summary you can share: the options are endless. Keep in mind that if you are using a video in your introduction, it must be very short, ideally less than 2 minutes as the audience has come to see you and the video should not be replacing your role as the presenter.
The effective use of a prop can hook your audience in a memorable way. They can be used to illustrate a new product or invention (think about Steve Jobs arriving on stage with the first MacBook Air) or can inject a load of humor into your intro for a bright, fun talk (imagine arriving on stage with a giant stage prop or a “strange” outfit that relates to your talk) Either way, they can be used to captivate your audience by showing them something different: they will instantly be curious about what you are holding, and will lean in to find out.
However you choose to introduce your topic, remember that your introduction is one of the most important parts of your talk: losing the audience in that first minute can have a major effect on your ability to deliver the message effectively - so start it off right!
What are some of the best practices you use for starting off your presentations? Do you have a surefire strategy for captivating the audience? We’d love to hear about it. Contact us, or share your ideas with us on Twitter.
Find out about being listed as a speaker on SpeakerHub here.