“Today, I’m going to talk about the benefits of living in a cold climate. I live in Edmonton, where it is cold in the winter ”….. Yawn! I am ready to go to sleep!
I’ve heard many speakers who start a speech that way. And you know what? The audience already knows what they are going to talk about because they read his bio and they read about the topic in the program and that is why they are here listening. So quit wasting their time.
You want to get the audience’s attention right off the bat and you’re certainly not going to do it with that! You need to grab their attention with a hook. Just like a fish, the audience won’t bite unless you give them something to chew on. People form opinions of you within the first 30 seconds. If you have something important to say, which I am sure you do or else you wouldn’t be standing up there, you have to grab them first. The hook can be the first sentence, but not always. But it is the first idea you give to the audience and it sets the tone for what’s to come.
Here are some techniques to grab them:
Ask a question: “Who here enjoys freezing their butt off?”
Asking a question engages the audience right away. They have their coffee in one hand and a treat in the other and think they can snuggle into a cozy speech, but now they are put on the spot. They don’t have to answer out loud but can think about it. A question arouses their curiosity of what the speaker will say next.
A quote: This reinforces your ideas and echos your claims. It shows that you are prepared. Make sure you say the exact quote from a reliable source. And that you know the intent of the speaker who said the quote.
“If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” Maya Angelou
Show a visual: A photo, a short video a graph or a prop. Not only is this a great attention grabber, but all focus is on the visual rather than you, which helps if you feel nervous.
Present a surprising fact or statistic: A statistic can be a great attention-grabber, especially if it contradicts a widely held belief and surprises the audience.
Add some local flavour: If you’re speaking outside your home turf, mention something that demonstrates you have some familiarity with the area. Mention a local sports team, a coffee shop or restaurant you stopped at, some local news story you heard that morning, a popular event that’s being held, or some other topic of local interest. Performers coming in to for a show do this all the time. It is really easy. Pick up the local paper, or ask your contact.
Tell a Story: We all love stories, so consider telling a story related to the topic you’re about to speak about or something that leads smoothly into that topic. A personal story is best, because it invites the audience to join you in your world. In this speech your story could be about when you were a kid and you’d rush outside at recess to play on the snow mound.
Sound off: What would a movie be without sound effects? How about a haunted house? In this speech you could start it off with a sound effect of walking in the snow, crunching, or the sound of people throwing snowballs.
***Make sure you check the sound levels beforehand. You don’t want to blast your audience.
Engage with humour: Tell a joke! The key to this one is knowing your audience. Nothing’s worse than crickets after a punchline, especially when you are using the joke to start your speech. Don’t alienate anyone. Be professional. Stay away from jokes that pit one group against another, or you against the audience. A good joke softens a crowd and makes them more likely to like you, and just maybe, what you have to say.
Land That Audience
There are a lot of different ways you can hook your audience, as I have detailed here. Which is the best for your presentation? It depends on you and the audience. What are you comfortable with? And what is appropriate for the audience? If you’re not naturally funny, don’t try to be with a joke. If your audience is a group of children, your hook is going to be different than a group of business people. Get off to a good start and you’ll be able to reel in the audience throughout your presentation.