You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
We’ve all heard this expression before, but it wasn’t until early last year that someone put it into real perspective for me. I was having lunch with a member of the local CAPS chapter and discussing speaking and presentation tips he’d impart to someone at an early stage in their career. He told me about the importance of opening a speech on the right note. “The first minute earns you the privilege of the audience’s attention for the next five” [tweet this], he said.
I think about that every time while putting together keynote speeches and over time, I brainstormed a few different ideas I’ll share with you here:
Starting your presentation with a video is a great way to get the audience to settle and focus. There are literally millions of videos you can grab from a service like YouTube by using a webapp like keepvid. To make this really dramatic, consider playing it before you say anything or step on stage. Video itself should be no longer then 2 minutes and fade away to black upon completion. It should set a theme for your talk, or provide you with an opportunity to make a strong opening point.
Get Them Moving
I just started using recently and it’s a bit of a risky move. I talk about social media strategy to business folks, so when I ask people to get up and out of their seats, there are often more then a few blank or reluctant stares. But once you get over that, it’s really a great way to bring up the energy level in the room and jolt people out of a lethargic presentation coma. Personally, I use a couple of simple exercises based on a program called BrainGym, but a Google search for ice breakers or energizers should give you some options to work with.
A powerful image can convey tone, emotion and help you set up the rest of your presentation. Basically what you would do here is use the image as an anchor for a story. You would develop a 2 to 3 minute story or anecdote that puts the image into context and of course, it should conclude with a point you wish to make in your speech. This can be either a personal image or a stock photo, but it must relate to the central theme of your presentation. Find out where to get free stock photos here.
Alan Weiss does a fantastic job of using this kind of an opening to grab the audience’s attention. One of my favorite talks of his begins with “It is not the more you learn, the more you earn – but the more you earn, the more you learn” while talking about business acquisition to the Australian Speakers Association. To use this opener, you would start the presentation with a statement, fact or statistic that is contrary to conventional knowledge or what is expected from you on that day. Once you make the statement, you would roll into a story or argument that flows into the central theme of your talk.
The Road Map
Probably the most practical out of the bunch, opening your talk with a roadmap of the main points you will be making throughout can be a great way to quickly focus the audience and set their expectations. Doing so should help your audience follow along and hopefully maximize the amount of content they absorb. What I like to do with approach is to say something like “We packed a day’s worth of material in the next 45 minutes, and here are the 5 points we will discuss today“. My intention is to verbalize that there is considerable value packed within the speech and to provide a plot to follow. It’s like reading a brief synopsis of a movie before you go and see it in the theatre.
Making a good first impression is important when meeting new people and when forming new connections. It’s a critical part of our job as public speakers. Gaining the full attention of your audience is necessary to keep them entertained as well as for driving your point home. In order to capture the audience’s attention, it’s important to start off with a bang and I hope these few presentation ideas will give you something new to work with.
photo by: civellod
What is your favorite way to open a presentation?