Speakers can open their presentation using one of a host of methods. So why do most non-professional speakers begin their speech with those attention-grabbing words, “Ah, I am so-in-so, ah . . . um”? Beginning your speech with filler words such as “ah” or “um” immediately tells your audience that you are an untrained speaker. In a flash, you’ve lost credibility as a speaker, or even worse, as an expert in your field, and your audience has taken a mental exit. You might as well be talking to an empty room.
Why do speakers self-sabotage their speeches by beginning this way? It’s simple. It’s because they haven’t clearly defined or prepared their opening. Consequently, nervously, they search for what to say next and fill in this awkward gap with a filler word, “ah” or “um.”
Your goal as a presenter is to grab your audience’s attention and keep it. Although there are numerous ways to open a presentation, I have found three methods to be the most effective, especially when making business presentations.
1. Enrolling questions. One of my favorite ways to open a presentation is with enrolling questions. Asking a question of your audience immediately gets them involved. Ask questions that are pertinent to your audience. Use close-ended questions, those questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no signified by a raised hand. The beauty of asking enrolling questions is that they engage your audience in both a physical and a mental activity. Stimulating these two activities often creates a higher likelihood that you will keep your audience’s attention throughout your presentation.
Prepare your questions ahead of time and practice raising your hand to eliminate any potential awkwardness in front of your audience. Below is an example of enrolling questions an executive recruiter asked a group of business owners:
“How many people here want to hire the right people?”
“How many people here want to hire the right people and keep them?”
The rule of thumb when asking enrolling questions is that you must enroll 100% of your audience. Rule 2: Always ask two questions. Why? Because one question alone is not as effective as asking two. So how do you ask these two questions? There are two different ways. If you know for a fact that your audience will be enrolled with the first question, the second question can be a building question.
For example: “How many people here need to talk in order to sell your products and services?” “How many people here would like to talk less and sell more?”
If you’re not sure your first question will engage the majority of your audience, with the second question you ask the opposite or the complement of the first. For instance: “How many of you like chocolate?” “How many of you don’t?” Or “How many of you have children?” “How many of you don’t?” By asking two questions you have a better chance of engaging 100% of your audience and keeping them engaged.
2. Statement of declaration. A statement of declaration is a powerful way to begin any speech. A statement of declaration is simply an announcement—with meaning. This statement can be a starting point from anywhere in your speech as long as it relates to your topic. What I love about this method is that this type of statement usually jerks anyone who may have mentally left the room back into their seats.
Once I heard a speaker begin his speech with “I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!” He said it with such emotion that the audience could actually feel his frustration with being late and waited to hear more. Another memorable statement of declaration used by a young college student was, “I’m tired of being a grunt!” The entire audience fell silent because most of us could relate to that statement in some form or another. It grabbed our attention, big time.
The rule of thumb when making statements of declaration is to say them with strong conviction. Say it like you mean it.
3. Staggering statistical statement. A staggering statistical statement is one that includes statistical information. This information is usually measured by a percentage, a number, or a dollar value. For instance: “80% of communication is nonverbal!” “Fifty thousand Americans suffer from diabetes!” Or “Our country has an all-time high deficit of sixty billion dollars!” When using a statistical statement as your attention grabber, do your homework. The information has to be 100% TRUE. If not, you will lose your credibility and your audience.
It doesn’t matter which of these “explosive attention grabbers” you use to begin your presentation, as long as you use one. Experiment with using the three different types to see which one works best for you and your speech. Remember, your opening question or statement must be relative to your topic and appropriate for your audience. Memorize it, practice it, and own it. If you grab your audience’s attention in the beginning, chances are you’ll keep it until the end.
Arvee Robinson is a Persuasive Speech Coach and President of Power Living Enterprises. She works with Service Professionals and Business Owners who want to attract more clients by communicating more clearly about what they do. She teaches them simple, proven systems for delivering persuasive business speeches, getting the most out of networking, and creating a 30-Second Magnetic Introduction. Arvee has helped hundreds of individuals to eliminate nervousness, command their audiences’ attention, and develop and deliver sales-winning presentations. Additionally, Arvee is a group leader of two networking groups. She is a Distinguished Toastmaster, the highest achievement in Toastmasters International, an organization dedicated to promoting speaking and leadership skills.
Arvee offers one-on-one coaching, corporate training, workshops, and teleclasses and is available to speak at your organization. Visit www.instantprospeaker.com or call (909) 626-5521.
2005 Arvee Robinson