24 November 2013

3 Killer Ways To Open Up Your Next Presentation

Having attended quite a few presentations over the past years, I can say today that speakers do not pay attention to how they open their speech. Most people treat their opening as any other moment of their presentation. However, we know that people decide whether or not your ideas are worth listening to based on how you start your speech. Think of how many times you looked for inspiring videos on the internet and made a decision as to whether to continue watching a particular video in the very first minute, or even seconds. Isn’t that true? We decide whether people are worth listening to mainly based on how they start.

So my question for you is, what are the most effective ways to open a speech or a presentation? How can you make sure that your audience do not switch channel? On a quest to know the answer to that question, I started studying and following the world’s best speakers to understand how they go about opening a speech. What I found out is that the answer is not unique. There are many ways to start a speech or a presentation in a powerful way. The one you choose depends on many factors, such as the topic, the audience, the circumstances and the way you feel more comfortable with.

I think the three most powerful ways to open a speech are the following:
  • Tell a story
  • Ask a provoking question
  • Reveal a shocking statistic
Below you find three great TED talks in which the speaker either started by telling a story, or by asking a provoking question, or by revealing a shocking statistic. For the purpose of this article, you can focus on the very first minute of each presentation. However, I suggest you to watch the complete videos since the speakers share important topics in an enjoyable way.    

(1) Tell a story

In this talk, Andrew Stantonfilmmaker and writer of Toy Storyshares what he knows about storytelling. And guess what, he starts by telling a funny story which then leads him to introduce his topic. You do not have to tell a funny story, you can tell a personal story or an emotional one. If you start by telling a story, you bring down the wall between you and your audience by making a honest connection with them. 


(2) Ask a provoking question

Simon Sinekauthor of the book Start With Whyshares his Golden Circle theory explaining how to become effective leaders and inspire change. His key message is that “people don’t buy what you do but why you do it.” How does it start? How does he make the audience care about his ideas? He asks a few provoking questions: “How do you explain when things don’t go as we assume? Or better, how do you explain when others are able to achieve things that seem to defy all of the assumptions?”. The answer to those questions is his core theme.   

(3) Reveal a shocking statistic

Since I live in England, I know who Jamie Oliver is. He is celebrity over here. And I also had the pleasure to eat in one of his restaurants. But I did not know he was so passionate about how food can save peoples’ lives. The purpose of his talk is to make Americans aware of how bad eating habits are killing them and their children and how we can all transform the way we feed ourselves. How does he go about making his audience care? He reveals a shocking statistic. “Sadly, in the next 18 minutes when I do our chat, four Americans that are alive will be dead from the food that they eat. My name’s Jamie Oliver. I’m 34 years old.” Before even introducing himself, he shared a shocking statistic. As TEDx organizer Jeremey Donovan wrote in his book How to Deliver a TED Talk: Secrets of the World’s Most Inspiring Presentations, one way to start a presentation is by sharing something unexpected that gets people disrupted.

Next time you give a speech or make a presentation, do not underestimate the way you start. Remember, people decide whether your ideas are worth spreading in the very first minute of your talk. Make sure your audience does not switch channel. 

IMAGE: Evan Forester via Flickr