Standard public speaking advice goes something like this: Practice your presentation, make eye contact with your audience and keep it snappy. And to be sure, these are all worthwhile habits to incorporate into your regimen. But where do you start? It’s intimidating to start at a series of blank slides, willing yourself to start crafting a presentation from scratch. Sure, you’ll memorize your notecards and move around the stage—but what will you say?
Luckily, getting started is the trickiest part. A snappy opener sets the tone for the rest of your speech. Consider these six ways to grab audience attention at the start of your presentation.
Generally, you want to avoid confusion during presentations. But intrigue, well, that’s a different story. A dash of the unexpected from the get-go will have people sitting up a little straighter, wondering where your line of thought is headed next. Pay special attention to your opening line, whether you choose a quote, riddle, anecdote, contradiction or other rhetorical device to begin. If you can stir up curiosity from the instant you open your mouth, you’ve increased your chances of bringing the audience along for the entire journey.
Drop a Statistic
Sometimes, it pays to stick to the facts. Statistics can illustrate a point more clearly than any opinion—so start out your presentation with a startling figure. From there, you can provide context and nuance through your supporting materials. Just make sure this statistic relates to the core takeaway of your presentation, or else it will provide empty shock value.
Ask a Question
It wouldn’t be a truly interactive presentation without input from your audience. Why not come out of the gates strong by asking them for their predictions or opinions right away? You can then use the remaining time to prove them right or wrong. Either way, asking a question at the very beginning helps create a bond between you and your viewers. Instead of a one-way information flow, your public speaking interactions become two-way conversations.
Pull Out a Prop
Believe it or not, props aren’t just for magicians. Like a stage performer uses a white rabbit, a wand or a deck of cards to captivate their audience, presenters can use a physical object to illustrate their point. Financial Times provides one example in which a sales executive used his tennis racquet to “emphasize ‘acing the competition,’ ‘rallying together as a team,’ and winning a ‘grand slam’ through great customer service.
Consider how three-dimensional objects can provide a focal point for viewers, as well as a physical vehicle to hit home figurative language.
Tell a Story
Nowhere is tasteful storytelling more useful than during a presentation. Think about it: Personal anecdotes lend authenticity and humanity to motivational speakers. Work-related stories help people understand the inner workings of companies. Fables capture something huge—principles and lessons showing how the world works—and distill it into digestible narratives. Humans love stories in all forms, which is why using one to launch your presentation is often a smart move.
Create a Hypothetical
You want to take your audience on a journey over the course of your presentation. Illustrating a hypothetical situation with your words is one way to help them picture the destination. Consider asking your audience to close their eyes and imagine… any outcome relevant to your topic. This will create a contrast between the real and the hypothetical, which the rest of your speech can explore in depth.
Your public speaking opener can make or break the rest of your presentation, which is why you should explore these six ways to grab audience attention at the start of your presentation and decide which fits best.