“Hello, and thanks, Bob, for that great introduction. Really, I appreciate it. You read it just like I wrote it..ha ha! And good to be here with you tonight. Dinner was really good. Did you enjoy it? If you did, let’s give a round of applause to the chef and servers! (pause, wait for anemic applause). I’m not really sure what I’m going to say tonight, but I want to talk a little bit about…”
That is a composite of many opening lines I’ve heard speakers use to start their presentation.
Boring. Forgettable. And a terrible way to start.
Whenever you stand in front of an audience, you can count on one thing: they want to quickly determine if you are worth listening to.
And to prove that you have something to say, you must break their preoccupation and immediately demonstrate the value of what you’re going to say.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t appreciate your introducer or the food that was served (although often the menu isn’t the highlight of the event). Those just aren’t the best way to begin.
Your opening lines are critical to engaging people to listen and keep listening.
Here are some fast starts:
- Promise a benefit: “In the next 60 minutes I’ll share four powerful ideas you can use…” Show your audience that your message is relevant and practical.
- Pique interest: “What is the one thing all great leaders have in common?” The best questions stimulate thoughtful consideration.
- Relate a personal experience: “I overcame a life-threatening illness and I’ll share what I learned that can help keep you healthy and safe.” Share with your audience what they can learn from what you learned from experience.
- Be a contrarian: “Prevailing wisdom is that social media is essential for successful sales and marketing. I disagree and I’ll prove why I’m right.” Audience members are interested in whether or not a speaker can prove an opposite point of view.
- Make a challenging statement: “You might think you’re a great multitasker but you’re not, and here’s why…” You can engage people quickly by challenging their thinking.
- Use humor: When a meeting room is hard to find, I sometimes begin by saying, “Congratulations on being here. I don’t mean this meeting, I mean congratulations on finding this room.” Saying something funny, especially if it is true, isn’t the same as telling a joke. Generally jokes aren’t a good way to begin, especially if people don’t laugh. But humor relevant to the event can be a great way to start. Good humor doesn’t always produce big laughs but sometimes just small chuckles.
Once you start fast, you can make some acknowledgements about the event and your happiness to be a part, but keep those comments concise.
And then make sure you have ideas and delivery skills that will reward audience members for listening to everything you have to say after you start.