Wise, Witty Ways to Begin Your Presentations Well
By Claudia Brogan
Rather than “limp” in to your next presentation, pay attention to boldly choose a good Attention-Getting introduction. Grab the audience by the lapels so to speak, make them say a quiet thoughtful “ahh,’ or tickle their funny bone. The next time you have the opportunity to deliver a speech, training session or presentation, give special thought to how you can start off vividly.
These specific methods may help you get unstuck, or may spark a new idea for creating your next good speech-beginning.
- Deftly use humor or an opening quote.
- Raise a particularly thought-provoking question or one single potent word.
- Or consider the clever ways that the word “T.E.A.S.E.” might be your very best pocket-pad reminder when you are beginning your next speech with verve and heart.
A bounty of websites exist which offer a collection of useful quips or jokes. The cardinal rule for using humor is to ensure that your remark fits the specific audience and the specific topic at hand. For instance, in a recent presentation I made to advanced speakers on the planning steps needed to craft a good speech, I quoted the inimitable Mark Twain: “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” That funny line is powerful because it yields chuckles, and also swiftly makes a key point.
In order for a famous quote to be appropriate, it must be concise, relatable, free of jargon, and targeted to fit your particular audience on hand. Not just any quote will do; take care to select a pithy quote that will yield chuckles or nods of recognition. Recently, when I spoke with a group of volunteers who work in a non-profit that provides hands-on support for aspiring job seekers, I opened with Mother Teresa’s quote, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” With a pause and a warm smile, I looked around the room and saw nods, grins, and agreement. That beautiful quote fit the group well, and began our discussion with focus.
Raising a Question
Until you have established momentum and rapport, I recommend that you not start with a real yes or no question like, “How many of you were nervous about attending today’s session?” Often, raising a question early can yield an awkward silence. Audience members don’t know yet whether you seek a literal response, an auditory response, or are merely offering a rhetorical question. Avoid confusing the audience. If it is important that you begin with a question, be sure to give the audience a specific cue about whether you seek their literal responses or want them to consider this silently.
Similarly, I have seen speakers say, “Raise your hand if….” and it turned out awkwardly. If there is a point during your presentation when this method is vividly appropriate, then use this technique well. But too often speakers ask an endless stream of questions and after the first one or two questions, most participants stop raising their hands and are ready for the next point to continue.
One Potent Word
“Imagine your morning routine that you used today…” Or “Imagine your next walk in the woods…” or “Imagine a world where children have enough to eat each day.” That single word “Imagine” conjures clear, inspiring settings. Used appropriately for your attendees, this can be engaging and impactful. You might consider other provocative words such as “pioneering” or “brilliant” or “exquisite.”
Lately, I have been studying the excellent tips offered by the Six Minutes team. There, Peter Jeff delights in encouraging speakers to use lessons from Saturday Night Live: dive right in with what is called “the cold open.” Don’t dip your toes in to feel the water or weaken your remarks with a quiet, mumbling hello, just happily claim the space and offer your very first remark. Jeff provides a clever 5-point suggestion: TEASE your audience. Testimonial, or Evidence, or Anecdote, or Statistic or Example. Not only is this a memorable formula, it is a spot-on creative way for you to command the attention of your listeners.
Author Brad Phillips’ intriguing book entitled 101 Ways to Open a Speech suggests that you do whatever you can to avoid the oft-used and snore-inducing formula of stepping to the front of the room, straightening your jacket, thanking your introducer, and remarking about “how delighted you are to be here today” before turning your back to discuss slide #1. Top among Mr. Phillips’ tips is offering a genuine, testimonial anecdote or finding a specific statistic that relates to this audience and the topic at hand.
As a bonus, check out the brilliant graphic that supplements the article.
So the next time you are given the chance to speak for an audience, consider that “real estate” of your first opening moments as your chance to begin well, grab your audience by the (figurative) lapels, and invite their close attention. It just may be that your next beginning leads to wonderful things ahead. Or, in the words of Meister Eckhardt, “And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.”
Claudia Brogan is a speaker, trainer and facilitator who helps organizations by coaching presenters, leading collaborative meetings and problem-solving with groups and teams. Reach out to see how she can help you. Contact Claudia via email at claudiabrogan @ gmail.com, through LinkedIn or by phone at 404-849-5182.