Three Better Ways to Open Your Talk
I recently went to see someone who claimed to be an expert in their field deliver a presentation. I was anxious to hear what they had to say, as I was personally and professionally interested in the topic.
They opened by saying that “according to google, (this topic) is defined as…” They then cited the number of search results as a way of establishing significance. Wow, 400,000 results, can you believe it!
I couldn’t. I immediately regretted coming and started to plan my exit. Opening by referencing a google search (or the dictionary!) are red flags for me that clearly say: I’m not an expert and I haven’t put a lot of thought into this presentation.
Here are three better ways to open your talk:
Cite a Statistic
“Did you know that four out of five dentists don’t even brush their own teeth?” Of course, this is not true (I hope); but it’s an example of how a statistic can capture attention and frame a topic.
Opening with a statistic might be the easiest opening to develop because your presentation may already contain data or information that you can use to pique interest. This will also help the issue that many presenters have of burying the most interesting information in the middle of their talk.
If you don’t have a statistic in your material, do some research and cite a statistic from a reputable source that clearly aligns with your message and makes people want to know more.
Quote an Expert
Dale Carnegie said that “there are always three speeches for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” As someone who gives speeches about speaking, this quote would set me up for at least 10-15 minutes of exploring ideas around preparation, imperfection and artistry in public speaking.
Opening with a quote makes it easy to start strong, frame your topic and capture your audience’s attention. I recommend first planning the body of your speech and then searching for a quote that speaks to some of those themes. Every quotable quote in the world can be found online, so yes, you have permission to use google now ;)
Tell a Story
I recently went to see someone who claimed to be an expert in their field deliver a presentation. Does that sound familiar? It was actually the first line of this blog post (which you obviously kept reading).
Perhaps that was because there was a story in that opening. Maybe not an epic tale, but it was enough to make you think – what happened next? And that is really the key to a story – things happening! You may not think of yourself as a storyteller, but if you can open your talk by describing some things that happened you will capture the attention of your audience and put them at ease. There is just something about a story that makes people sit back and relax – even if it has nothing to do with the topic at hand.
The way you communicate effects the way you are perceived, and there are few situations where perception matters as much as that moment where you step out in front of a room and start talking. So take the time to plan out and rehearse a memorable opening.
As for the closing – consider bringing it back around to where you started. Reference the statistic or the quote, or if you tell a story – leave out a crucial element in the opening so you can reveal it when you finish.
So back to my opening story... I ended up staying for the whole thing. And despite the terrible opening, the speaker actually had some great insights. Turns out you can’t always judge a speech by it’s opening (but that still doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to have a great one).