Surely by now you know how important it is to start strong but how exactly do we start our presentation with a bang? Here’s 7 sure-fire ways to start your presentation that will guarantee to knock the socks off your audience.
1. Open with a humorous/emotional story that leads to your key message
I have seen that been done a lot of times – especially by speech champions – with almost guaranteed success. We love stories, especially those that makes us laugh and have valuable lessons to teach. So when you start with one, we immediately get drawn into it like moth to the flame. Your personal anecdote gives us the opportunity to know you at a deeper level and it adds memorability to your message. Even weeks after your presentation, we will still remember your message because of the story you share.
A variation to this is to tell half a story and then proceed with your points. Once you are done, end off with the other half of your story, which by now will make a lot more sense.
2. Ask a question that gets us thinking
Why is it that some speakers can command the entire floor with ease while others struggle to keep their audience awake?
If this has been a speech opener, it will have set you thinking. You will be curious yourself. The question will trigger some memories and the next thing you know, you will be looking at the speaker for some answers. Such a rhetorical question allows your audience to play an active role in your speech – you get them involved. It keeps them engaged in your speech too as they seek to resolve the gap you have created by the question you ask.
3. Do a demonstration that leads to your message
A demonstration for the sake of doing one is meaningless. However if executed properly, it proves a point which increases your credibility as a speaker and also sets up your presentation for success.
At one of my speeches some time ago, I handed a can of sweets to one of the students in the first row. I instructed him to take one and pass. As planned, there were only enough sweets for the first row, which got the rest of the students sulking. Some of them even complained, loud enough for me to hear, which prompted my first line:
“Many of us wait for things to land on our laps. As a result, we end up get nothing.”
They quickly got embarassed and became quiet. As expected, this statement also had the first row of students laughing, which prompted by second line.
“Many of us also choose within what we are given. You (referring to the students in the first row) could have ask for this box of Godiva chocolates…”
And then I whipped out the box from my jacket and the whole room went silent. The students were all visibly embarassed and were grinning sheepishly as I proceeded my speech. I had no problem engaging them after that since I have effectively proven to them that THEY commit such mistakes all the time.
So the next time you want to prove a point, do a demonstration. Trick them if you need to, but more importantly, show them point blank why this presentation is so important to them.
4. Shock ‘em with facts and numbers
Tell us something that we don’t know and you immediately get our attention. This is why shocking facts and numbers are effective at grabbing your audience attention. A “do you know…” statement works extremely well.
For example, do you know that in New York, if you commit a crime, you have less than one chance in a hundred that you will ever be executed for it? Or in our local context, you may have seen an advertisement that starts off with “Do you know that a thin film of clean standing water of the size of a 20-cent coin is all an Aedes mosquito needs for its eggs to survive?”
So the next time you give a presentation, research for shocking facts or numbers about that particular topic. Go to your trusted google search page and type “[topic] + do you know?” or “[topic] + shocking facts” and viola, you have a winning introduction!
5. Start off with a cartoon or video, funny is optional
A short video clip adds colour to your presentation in more ways than one. It creates visual connection. It engages all five senses. It commands attention. However make sure that the video is not too long, it should not take up more than 10% of your presentation since it is more like a preview. Also remember to pick a video that effectively sets up what you are going to talk about.
In one of the upcoming seminars, the organizers are going to show a clip from “The Truman Show” starring Jim Carey. Recall the part where he discovered that his life was part of a script? He was so adamant about living his own life that he decided to leave. He sailed out to the “sea” hoping to get away, only to hit a white screen. The turning point came when he bravely opened the white door and walked out of the stage set up.
This scene was extremely apt for the seminar since it was themed “Your First Step” and the objective is to encourage all the participants to courageously step out and live their mark. Not only does the video lead to the key message, it creates a memorable anchor, one that will not be easily forgotten by the audience.
That’s right. Inaction could be one of your most powerful tools as a speaker. Most speakers rush to start either due to their nervousness or lack of experience. However if you observe powerful speakers, especially politicians, they take their time. Every second of silence equates to a pound more authority. As James C Hume commented, “Men, as well, as women, whether tall or short, can gain stature through strategic silence.”
So the next time you give a speech, take your time to walk up the stage. Find the center point and make your strategic pause. Don’t be afraid to look into the eyes of your audience. Smile at them. Once you have ALL their attention, begin with your first line.
7. Do something different (or crazy)!
Like my friend Darren Fleming who turned his back against his audience as he speaks. That sure make his audience love him even more. What counts is the novelty BUT make sure that you can relate it back to the objective of your speech. Click here to understand why Darren did what he did.
Or Darren La Croix, 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking who literally fell on his face to prove his point – failing is no big deal! In fact, one of the reasons why he won was because of his outrageous act. And then there is another speaker in the 80s who stood on stage without speaking for a whole one minute! It was clear that he was suffering from stage fright and performance anxiety. The contest chairperson was forced to come up on stage to escort him down. And just at that moment, the speaker blurted his first line, “When you are in the midst of a battle, do you have friends who continue to cheer you on or do they give up on you within a minute?” (referring to the contest chairperson). Now that was a powerful and poignant point!
And the list goes on. There is no boundaries to your creativity. My challenge to you is to work your creative juices and come up with an act that no one has done before. Even if it fails, at least you had fun!
Eric Feng is the go-to guy if you want to learn how to impress your investors and customers through public speaking. For more tips and tactics that you can use immediately in your next presentation, visit The Public Speaking Blog.