The first few minutes of your speech or talk are critical. Putting together a really solid opener can be tricky, and Ian is looking for advice on how to create stronger openers will grab his audience’s attention from the start:
My name is Ian, and I’m in the financial sector. I give lots of talks to financial services clients as well as to high school and college students about financial literacy. I enjoy speaking, but feel that my openers could be stronger. What options do I have for opening my talks? Are certain openers better for certain kinds of audiences?
Watch the video below for my full answer (You can click here to watch it over on YouTube, or scroll down to read the transcript):
Remember to like the video and subscribe to my YouTube channel – your likes, subscribes, and comments help other people find it more easily!
And now I`m turning it over to you – have you ever seen an opening to a talk that really stuck out in your mind? What kind of opener was it? Share it with with me in the comments below, or if you prefer to go Social, you can share over on Twitter via @lsergy or over here on Facebook!
First up, Ian, let me say how great it is that you’re sharing your knowledge with such a varied audience.
Strong openings definitely boost the impact of your talk. There are lots of ways to open up a talk, but firstblet’s look at the whole purpose of the opener. The opening of your talk is intended to do two things: help the audience warm up or buy in to you as a speaker, and give them some context for what you’ll be speaking about. Warming up your audience is about getting them to feel as though they know and trust you – you want to give them a little peek inside your head so that they feel that they understand a bit about you and where you’re coming from. The context piece will give them a better handle on what you’re actually going to be talking about – it sets the stage for the rest of your content.
Now there are just about as many ways to open a talk as there are varieties of breakfast cereal, but today I`ll share with you the three strongest openers in a speaker`s arsenal:
First, we have Storytelling. This is one of the most popular and effective openers. Stories help the audience feel more familiar with the content, help them get a feel for your personality, and gives them get a good emotional framework for the content (depending on if your story is happy or sad, funny or serious, and so on). Telling stories about yourself will help the audience relate to you and make you seem more personable. Telling stories about other people can help you seem more impartial or objective. I find that the most effective stories are told in a casual, conversational tone as opposed to something that sounds overly rehearsed or formal.
The second opener I recommend is a surprising fact or statistic. This can snap an audience to attention, and if the fact is reliable, will help them see you as an authority or expert on the subject – after all, you are leading with data. Keeps the fact or statistic simple and snappy – the audience needs to be able to quickly understand it and it needs to have an obvious connection to the rest of your content. Try not to use facts or statistics that are overused, cliché, or flat-out wrong (there are a lot of these out there). Make sure it’s reliable, easy to remember, and easy to repeat.
Third, we have the Audience Participation opener. This is where you start your talk by asking the audience a question and getting them to respond by raising their hand, or something similar.
Another version of this opener is to get the audience to perform a certain action, like standing up and switching seats. I once saw a great talk by Seth Godin where as soon as he got on stage, he started singing the ABC song while gesturing for the whole audience to join in. The advantage to this opener is that it makes audience members active participants in your talk instead of passive listeners. But I’ve got a point of caution: The audience question or participation can be a very simple, but it absolutely must be relevant to your content. If you’re going to ask “how many people here are from out of town?”, it’s because you’ve got something insightful or relevant to say about out-of-town visitors or travelers. The same goes with other kinds of participations – Seth’s ABC song opener worked because he used it to make a point about ideas that everyone holds in common.
While a good, relevant audience participation opener helps engage people, a pointless question or activity will turn them off.